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Bromance of Illini hockey: Eric Cruickshank and Grant Stueve

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Eric Cruickshank (15) gains possession of the puck and takes it up the ice to Robert Morris' zone at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18. Illini fell to Robert Morris 3-2.

Eric Cruickshank (15) gains possession of the puck and takes it up the ice to Robert Morris' zone at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18. Illini fell to Robert Morris 3-2.

Elisabeth Neely

Elisabeth Neely

Eric Cruickshank (15) gains possession of the puck and takes it up the ice to Robert Morris' zone at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18. Illini fell to Robert Morris 3-2.

By Erich Fisher, Staff writer

A true love story takes place over the course of several years and is normally love at first sight. This is no different for the relationship between senior forwards Eric Cruickshank and Grant Stueve, otherwise known as the “bromance of Illini hockey.”

The two lovebirds first met eyes when they were playing for Team Illinois in 2011. Cruickshank was playing on the U18 team, and Stueve was playing on the U16 team.

They went up to a lake house that summer where the two truly first met.

It wasn’t until the Bloomington Steel tryout that year that Stueve and Cruickshank really got a first impression of the chemistry that was about to develop on and off the ice.

“First was his shot, that was a no-brainer,” Stueve said. “I saw his first go bar down in practice, then we had a couple skates together to get going. I think right away we realized we wanted to play together.”

Cruickshank remembered things going a little differently.

“We honestly played on a line together at Steel because we knew each other,” Cruickshank said. “We didn’t realize there would be a little bit of chemistry because I thought he was a little weird, and he is.”

However, like any true love story, our protagonists inevitably ended up getting separated from each other.

After they both got cut from the Bloomington tryouts, the two did not cross paths for roughly three and a half years, until they came to play for Illinois.

Stueve’s cousin, former Illini hockey forward Austin Zima, basically recruited him to join the team, telling him that if he got into the University, he should give Illinois head coach Nick Fabbrini a call.

Cruickshank was already a member of the team, and once Stueve arrived, they both felt like they were able to pick up right from where they left off.

Their relationship soon became more than just business as the two are now living together.

“We have good chemistry,” Cruickshank said. “It’s a pretty laid-back apartment.”

Stueve agreed, saying, “It’s the place where all the guys come over and hang out.”

Sparks are always flying between Cruickshank and Stueve, and it is something that senior defenseman and team captain Joey Ritondale has noticed.

“I think they’ve developed a really good relationship,” Ritondale said. “It’s funny for everyone to see. They act like clowns in the locker room. They definitely bring the mood up a lot of times, so it’s fun to be around them.”

From the way Ritondale was initially talking about them, it seemed like there could be a real love triangle brewing, but he clarified that he is more interested in pinning Cruickshank and Stueve against each other.

“We always like to get them riled up against each other and see what comes out of it,” Ritondale said. “It’s always fun to be a spectator of one of their arguments. We’re not the first ones to jump in on one of those when it happens, but it’s all in good fun.”

In their final season as members of the team, Cruickshank and Stueve are connecting on all cylinders as expected. Both have four points each to their names, Cruickshank with three goals and an assist and Stueve with one goal and three assists through the five games so far this year.

But once their lives outside of the University start to take off, it is still up in the air if the bromance will endure.

“Playing on a triple-A team you see each (other) on the rink, and you see them on the weekends at games, but when you are living together, going out together, doing homework together you get to know the guy so much better,” Cruickshank said. “Maybe we will be roommates after college.”

“I hope not,” Stueve joked.

@ETFisher24

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