Mcging takes on the scorer role for Illini hockey against Robert Morris

Eric+Cruickshank+takes+a+shot+during+the+game+against+Iowa+State+at+the+Ice+Arena+on+Saturday%2C+Nov.+14.+Illinois+lost+3-2+in+a+shootout.
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Mcging takes on the scorer role for Illini hockey against Robert Morris

Eric Cruickshank takes a shot during the game against Iowa State at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Nov. 14. Illinois lost 3-2 in a shootout.

Eric Cruickshank takes a shot during the game against Iowa State at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Nov. 14. Illinois lost 3-2 in a shootout.

Tyler Courtney | The Daily Illin

Eric Cruickshank takes a shot during the game against Iowa State at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Nov. 14. Illinois lost 3-2 in a shootout.

Tyler Courtney | The Daily Illin

Tyler Courtney | The Daily Illin

Eric Cruickshank takes a shot during the game against Iowa State at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Nov. 14. Illinois lost 3-2 in a shootout.

By Ethan Swanson

Forwards James Mcging and Eric Cruickshank are no strangers to one another out on the ice. As linemates, the two have produced 51 points for the Illini this season.

The set-up man Mcging boasts 19 assists on the season while the usual recipient of Mcging’s dimes, Cruickshank, has netted 16 goals. Both lead the team in the respective categories.

When Illinois traveled to Robert Morris University (Illinois) last weekend, the change in scenery brought a change in the Mcging-to-Cruickshank connection as well.

Instead of being the facilitator to his teammates, Mcging took on the scoring burden and led the Illini in goals over the weekend.

Mcging had two goals in Friday’s 3-2 win, including the game-winner in overtime. Mcging added another goal in Saturday’s 4-3 loss, and his linemate Cruickshank registered an assist in each game, one of which went to Mcging.

“He can get you the puck even when you think there’s absolutely no way possible,” Cruickshank said. “He’s dangerous in space, whether he wants to pass or shoot.”

“He’s one of the best in the country,” head coach Nick Fabbrini added. “He’s crucial to that line, and that line is crucial for us.”

Persistent Penalties

Keeping key players out of the penalty box has been a major struggle for the Illini all season.

Three Illinois skaters have already accumulated over 35 penalty minutes. Mcging and Cruickshank lead the team with 63 and 58 minutes, respectively.

However, the Illini were able to minimize opposing power play opportunities, only allowing six man-up situations for the Eagles over the weekend and giving up no goals during the ensuing penalty kills.

On Saturday, the Illini only received one minor penalty worth two minutes in the box, substantially beating their game average of 15 minutes per game.

“It’s just a matter of discipline and personal choice,” John Olen said. “Our best players can’t make plays if they’re not on the ice and it’s asking too much from our defense to play a man down nearly a whole period. We’re a younger team, and these things come with maturity.”

Stagnant in the Standings

Illinois began the season at No. 13 in the ACHA preseason poll, but has failed to move up the standings since September.

The team currently sits at No. 25 in the league and second to last in the CSCHL conference.

At approximately the halfway point in the season, the Illini are running out of excuses for not living up to early expectations. With Olen and other formerly injured Illini entering their second week back in the lineup, Illinois should have the roster to make a run in the second half of the season.

Only four points separate first and last place in the CSCHL, but with conference leaders Iowa State and Ohio ranked in the top five, winning the conference outright will be a tall order for the Illini.

All the remaining CSCHL series for the Illini are against teams above them in the standings, and two out of the three remaining conference series will be on the road.

If Illinois finds a way to climb atop the conference, it will be well earned.

“We know what we need to do,” Fabbrini said. “We have to win.”

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