Illinois hockey aims to face CSCHL rival

The Illinois hockey seems to have its back against the wall heading into its two-game weekend series against CSCHL-rival Lindenwood, beginning Friday night.

The CSCHL champion Lions enter the Illinois Ice Arena on a 14-game winning streak and have not lost since Thanksgiving weekend. They are 14-0 in conference play, including two victories over the Illini in Wentzville, Mo., on Nov. 18 and 19. Illinois has struggled against Lindenwood in the last three years, losing 12 of 15.

“They’re one of the best teams in the country and one of our big rivals since I’ve been here,” Illinois forward Andrew Cardona said. “We know it’s going to be a battle, we just have to stick to our game, play well defensively, not turn the puck over and just capitalize on scoring chances.”

Illinois enters having won three of its last four games, but will be without Austin Bostock (shoulder) and defenseman Chris Peter (concussion), as well as forwards Joe Sullivan (suspension) and Jonathon Sakellaropoulos (LSAT exam) for Friday night’s game.

“It is what it is, and the nice part is we’ve been here before this semester,” Illinois head coach Chad Cassel said. “It’s not ideal, but we put ourselves in this situation, so we’re going to have to battle through it.”

Lindenwood has swept three divisional opponents in the CSCHL and will look to make Illinois the fourth, allowing the Lions to go undefeated in league play for the first time in school history. The Illini are looking to gain position entering the league tournament next week and could still finish as high as third still in the CSCHL with a little help. They currently rank fifth.

“We’re going to need a solid team effort this weekend, and they’re going to be excited to play,” Cassel said. “But it’ll mean a lot more to us than it will to them.”

Lindenwood enters averaging more than four goals per game, so it will not be an easy night for goaltender Dan Rooney, who is starting his fifth consecutive game (3-2). The Illini will count on Cardona and forward Scott Barrera to help pick up the scoring load.

“I think it’s been my role the whole season,” said Cardona, who leads the team in goals with 14. “I’m just going to treat it like another game. But if I get the opportunity to get the puck in the net, I’ll definitely make sure I do that.”

With one final ACHA ranking to be released before the ACHA national tournament, the Illini know this could be their opportunity to move up in the rankings.

“From here on out it’s a playoff type atmosphere,” Cardona said. “We got something to prove to the rest of the ACHA: that we should be one of the premier teams, and a team that people should be afraid of.”

“It’s a huge opportunity for us,” Cassel said. “We need to win some games this weekend and we’ll solidify our position for the national tournament. Our margin for error is very small, and we can’t take any penalties or give up any power plays.”