Illini hockey steps up during Olen brothers' absence

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Illini Eric Cruikshank gains control of the puck during the game against Lindenwood on February 7. Cruickshank has had to fill a void left in the Olens’ absence.

By Matt Gertsemeier

While center John Olen and goaltender Joe Olen have been representing Team USA at the World University Games in Granada, Spain, Illinois has gone 3-1. The Olens have been gone for two weeks and head coach Nick Fabbrini has joked that maybe they should stay in Spain.

“I sent them a text the other day messing around that maybe they should just stay over there,” Fabbrini said. “But, obviously when you can get two of your best players back, that’s going to be a boost, especially if the rest of these guys keep playing and competing and contributing the way they have.”

During the Olens’ absence, some Illini have discovered talents that haven’t been utilized as a result of relying on the Olens.

Winger James Mcging, Illinois’ leader in assists, has scored four goals in the past four games. Mcging said that with John Olen away, he has had to take some of the scoring load. Mcging scored the game-winning shootout goal against Lindenwood on Friday night at the Big Pond.

As well as Mcging, winger Eric Cruickshank and goaltender Zev Grumet-Morris have stepped up without the Olens. Cruickshank has scored four goals in the past four games and Grumet-Morris has saved 89 percent of the 110 shots he’s faced.

“A lot of guys are finding things within themselves they might have taken a back seat naturally because we rely on (the Olens) so much,” Mcging said. “It’s good when they come back, (because) a lot of guys maybe will now realize the potential everyone has.”

Saturday night struggles continue

Illinois’ Saturday night loss to Lindenwood marked its fourth home loss this season. All four losses have occurred on Saturday, following a Friday night win.

At home, Illinois is 14-4-0. In Friday home games Illinois is 9-0-0, while in Saturday home games Illinois is 5-4-0.

Forward Jon Langan said the Illini don’t worry about Saturday losses too much and that the team’s last two were close games that could have gone either way.

Against Lindenwood on Saturday, Illinois entered the third period tied 2-2, but two defensive zone breakdowns resulted in Lindenwood taking a 4-2 lead to win the game.

“It’s not something that’s bugging our guys,” Langan said. “We know we can win every night, it doesn’t matter if it’s Friday or Saturday.”

Illinois will have one last chance to break out of its Saturday slump when Eastern Michigan comes to the Big Pond in three weeks.

Shootout no problem for Grumet-Morris

Friday night’s shootout was the third shootout for Illinois this season. It was Illini goaltender Zev Grumet-Morris’ first time in net for one in college.

One goal snuck by Grumet-Morris, but he made two close, diving saves, which helped secure the 3-2 victory.

“I love shootouts, I think they’re so fun,” Grumet-Morris said. “I didn’t really think about this is my chance to make my mark or anything, I just wanted to win really badly — so did everyone else.”

Even though it was Grumet-Morris’ first shootout at Illinois, Fabbrini knew he would perform under pressure.

“We have a lot of confidence in Zever,” Fabbrini said. “He’s played great for us all year. You can’t say enough about him keeping us in games and giving us a chance to win.”

Matt can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @MattGertsmeier.