Hockey captain Gilbert looking for inspired play against Cyclones

Illinois hockey captain Tim Gilbert is seeking revenge against Iowa State this weekend.

The No. 6 Illini were knocked out of the ACHA National Championships last year at the hand of the Cyclones.

“All the older guys who are here who were on the team last year want it,” Gilbert said. “They are a rival, they are in our league anyways and playing the team that knocked us out of nationals last year definitely leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

Iowa State will see a completely different Illinois squad this weekend, as the Illini roster has gone through a dramatic facelift since it lost in the tournament.

“There’s no doubt that we’re a lot deeper this year when it comes to scoring,” Illini head coach Chad Cassel said. “Our team is just better than it was last year. There’s a lot of new guys who are younger, but that’s OK. It’s exciting because I think overall the talent level is higher this year.”

The depth of the offensive lines has been crucial to the Illini’s early season success. Last week, when freshman forward Austin Bostock tore a ligament in his thumb, Illinois was down one of its fastest and most skilled skaters. Freshman John Scully replaced Bostock, moving into his spot on the line with the team’s two leading goal scorers, Andrew Cardona and Mike McBride. With Scully filling in, the line scored goals in 4 of 5 attempts on the weekend.

“Obviously, Andrew Cardona had a huge weekend,” Cassel said. “Austin will be back this week, and I think it just makes that line that much stronger. Austin is a very good player for us. I like our lines; I think we have four very good lines.”

Bostock is excited to get back on the ice after watching his team split two games last weekend against Indiana, the loss coming in a shootout.

“Sitting in the stands up there was just nerve-wracking,” Bostock said. “We had five other guys sitting next to me and we were all biting our lip and jumping up and down. It was crazy. I couldn’t even imagine what it felt like to be out on the ice during that. I wish I was out there trying to help get the ‘W.’”

Illinois will have to face a tough Iowa State team — by far its toughest opponent of the season — without junior defenseman Justin Wirt, who dislocated his shoulder Friday night. Senior Gabe Heller will slide into Wirt’s spot on the power play. Brian Pickett will see the ice in Wirt’s absence.

“We’re deep on ‘D,’” Cassel said. “Right now, (Brian) Pickett, who has been playing really well for us, is going play with (Matt) Maday. Wirt has definitely been good up top on the power play but it’s just an opportunity for someone else to step up. Gabe is going to take the position, and he’s done it before.”

The power play will be a specific point of emphasis for Cassel, as the team went 0-for-9 last week.

“It’s something that we’re going to have to be confident in,” Gilbert said. “I think we moved back a little bit last weekend, missing so many opportunities. It’s looking good this week, and we’ll obviously work on it a little more getting ready for the weekend.”