Illinois hockey confident heading into weekend

After sweeping rival Indiana last weekend and snapping a season-high six-game losing streak, Illinois is prepared to take their newfound confidence on the road this weekend against the Robert Morris Eagles.

Illinois outscored Indiana in dominating fashion, scoring five goals in each game and holding the Hoosiers to just two goals total in two games. The Illini look to keep up the pace on the road against a tough Eagles team, a task head coach Chad Cassel said won’t be easy.

“I think the games against Robert Morris are winnable, but we’ll have to play very well to beat them,” Cassel said. “They have a good team. They’re very talented offensively, they’re well-coached, and it’s definitely not going to be an easy weekend for us.”

The upcoming series looks to be pivotal for Illinois coming down the stretch, as they trail Robert Morris by a mere two points in the conference standings and three places in the ACHA national rankings. The Eagles recently overtook the Illini in the rankings, moving from No. 11 to No. 9 while the Illini dropped from No. 9 to No. 12.

Sophomore forward Jacob Matysiak says the team is moving in the right direction but will have to work hard to earn the potential 12 points against Robert Morris.

“We’re pretty confident coming into this weekend,” Matysiak said. “But Robert Morris is a great team, and it won’t be easy to get two wins against them. They’re a very similar team to us, which will be interesting. And we know them very well, considering we have a few transfers from there.”

Robert Morris, like Illinois, is coming off a rough stretch in January. The Eagles previously lost three out of four games in the early weeks of the month but have since surged to a 4-1 record in the past five. The Eagles are led by leading scorer Christopher Cimoch, who has accounted for 34 points in 28 games played.

Playing on the road has been a disappointment for the Illini thus far. They have accumulated a 1-6-1 record on the road this year, losing their last seven in a row. Their only win came Oct. 28, in which they defeated Iowa State 1-0. Illinois will have to ramp up the pace against a Robert Morris team that has been stellar at home this season to the tune of a 10-2-1 record.

“Coach has been telling us to just keep everything simple and play defensive hockey, get the puck out of the zone, forecheck hard, and get pucks to the net,” Matysiak said. “We don’t have that many goal scorers, but we have a lot of hard workers and lots of grinders, and we just need to play defensive and smart hockey.”

Junior defenseman Mike Evans sees the upcoming series equal to a home series because of the team’s familiarity with Bensenville’s Edge Ice Arena.

“I’ve personally played (at The Edge) all of my life growing up, and I have a bunch of people coming down to watch,” Evans said. “So it’ll basically be a home game for a lot of us. There will be a lot of family members and friends coming down to support us, so I’m sure it’ll be a great atmosphere and a lot of us will be very comfortable playing there.”