Illinois hockey aims to end road slump

Being away from the Illinois Ice Arena has not treated the Illini hockey team well.

As the Illini prepare to face Robert Morris at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville, Ill., this weekend, they will aim to break a streak longer than the six-game skid they snapped against Indiana last weekend. Illinois has lost seven consecutive road games; it hasn’t won on the road since a 1-0 victory over Iowa State on Oct. 28, the Illini’s lone road win of the season.

Illinois has been outscored 33-13 on the road this year, going 1-6-1 and averaging just 1.625 goals a game.

“It’s a lot of things,” sophomore forward Austin Bostock said. “One, our rink is so different and so much bigger, and then we go to a rink up in Chicago or Ohio and it’s so much smaller. It kind of takes a little bit of getting used to, so the first period is always a little shaky.”

The difference in ice size is something several Illini mentioned as the biggest difference playing away from home, but they wanted to make it clear that they weren’t making excuses.

“Every team kind of goes through a rut throughout a season at least once,” senior forward Andrew Cardona said. “It just matters how you come through and start coming out of that slump. I think we’re coming out of that slump now, and we’re starting to get to the peak, and I think we’re going to start peaking at the right time.”

Practicing on bigger ice and then playing on a smaller ice is

something senior forward Mike Ursitti thinks can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.

“The main disadvantage is on our power play,” Ursitti said. “When you play on a smaller rink, things happen a lot faster. Our penalty kill is the same way. We like to pressure a lot and pressure quick, so practicing on the big rink and doing it on a smaller rink is going to make a big difference.”

Bostock said he likes the wider rink because it gives him more freedom to skate.

“I like skating — skating hard and working hard. You get a little bit more time to make plays and think about stuff,” Bostock said. “But it’s a lot faster game when you play on a shorter rink. So it’s going to be a lot faster, and Robert Morris is a small team just like us. It’s going to be a fast-pace game this weekend.”

The poor road record doesn’t bode well for the Illini, who travel to Robert Morris for a weekend series starting Friday. Twelve points will be up for grabs during this weekend’s series, and the Illini trail Robert Morris, which is 10-2-1 at home, for fourth place in the CSCHL standings by just two points.

Illinois head coach Chad Cassel said he isn’t sure exactly why his team has struggled on the road, but said this weekend will be different. A lot of the Illini will be returning to their hometown and staying with their families for the weekend.

“Since 99 percent of our guys are from Chicago, hopefully we can kind of consider this a home game, and we’ll continue our success at home up in Chicago,” Cassel said.