Illini hockey preps for regular season finale

The Illinois hockey team’s next road trip will be its most important of the season, as the Illini begin the CSCHL tournament this weekend in Athens, Ohio. The 11th-ranked Illini (13-15-1) will face a tough match against No. 8 Iowa State (26-8-5) on Friday afternoon.

The single-elimination tournament marks the end of the CSCHL season for the Illini.

The Illini expect to make a deep run in this year’s tournament despite being riddled with injuries. Head coach Chad Cassel said the team would have to take advantage of its situation against familiar opposition.

“Most teams in our league we’ve seen several times,” Cassel said. “I enjoy the competition. They’re a good team and they’re well-coached, so it should be a fun match-up. We’d like an easier opponent, yes, but since we played ourselves into this situation, we’re going to have to make the most of it.”

The Illini don’t expect their second-leading scorer, sophomore forward Austin Bostock, to play any of the weekend’s games because of a shoulder injury. Bostock has accumulated 25 points in 24 games played for the Illini this season.

Illinois will also be without senior defenseman Chris Peter and senior forward Michael McBride. Both have suffered concussions in recent weeks and are expected to miss an extended period of time.

“I know we will be ready to go in and compete our best for the rest of the season,” sophomore forward Eddie Quagliata said. “When the playoffs come around, any team can beat any team. The injuries to some of our key guys hurt, but we have guys on the team ready to step in and perform well.”

Illinois’ third-leading scorer, freshman forward Derek Schultz, is considered questionable to play after suffering an injury that forced him to miss Saturday’s contest against Lindenwood, according to Cassel. Sophomore forward Matt Welch is suspended for Friday’s game after being ejected for fighting last Saturday.

This will be the fifth meeting between the Illini and the Cyclones this season, with the Illini going 1-2-1 in those contests. Since their last meeting Jan. 21, both teams have managed to produce a 3-3-0 record.

“It was a little disappointing, dropping two games at home to (Iowa State) this semester,” Cassel said. “So hopefully we can bounce back from that. But it’s a great match-up, and it should be a great game. We’d like to be a little healthier, but it is what it is at this point.”

The Illini will have to contain the Cyclones’ trio of scoring forwards if they want to advance deep into the tournament. Freshman forward J.P. Kascsak leads the Cyclones in points and goals, with 40 points on 21 goals and 19 assists. Forwards Jon Feavel and James Buttermore are not far behind, with 36 and 35 points, respectively.

Fortunately for Illinois, both its goaltenders are playing some of the best hockey of the year. Cassel thinks it’s a good problem to have.

“The situation is great because they’re both playing very well,” he said. “I have 100 percent confidence in both of them, so we’re in a very good situation.”

Cassel didn’t say whether sophomore Nick Clarke or senior Dan Rooney is starting in net Friday. Clarke has seen more than 1,200 minutes of ice time this season compared with Rooney’s 436 minutes, but Rooney has started five of the Illini’s past six games, compiling a 3-2 record in that span.

The puck drop is slated for noon Friday, and the game will be broadcast online at www.b2livetv.com.