Illinois hockey ready for ACHA national tournament

Illinois+Jacob+Matysiak+%289%29+and+EMUs+James+Peplinski+%2819%29+face+off+during+the+hockey+game+v.+Eastern+Michigan+at+the+Ice+Arena+on+Friday%2C+Feb.+27%2C+2015.+Illinois+won+10-1.

Illinois’ Jacob Matysiak (9) and EMU’s James Peplinski (19) face off during the hockey game v. Eastern Michigan at the Ice Arena on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. Illinois won 10-1.

Jacob Matysiak wasn’t happy when he heard the Illinois hockey team’s seed in this year’s ACHA National Tournament in Strongsville, Ohio.

Illinois (24-16-1) received the 13-seed and will play 20th-seeded John Carroll University (15-19-0) Thursday in the first round. Had the Illini been awarded the 12-seed, they would have had a first-round bye.

“There are teams ahead of us that we played that we’ve been a lot better than,” Matysiak said. “I think the ACHA does need to do a little better job with rankings and how they work with that.”

Illinois has faced eight of the 20 teams in the ACHA tournament and posted a 11-12-1 record against those teams. The Illini’s four other CSCHL counterparts — Iowa State, Robert Morris (IL), Lindenwood and Ohio — are all in the tournament and seeded lower than Illinois with first-round byes.

Nonetheless, Illinois has focused on John Carroll, a relatively unfamiliar opponent from the College Hockey Mid-America conference. The Flashes are 0-9-0 against the five teams they have faced this season that are in this year’s tournament.

Head coach Nick Fabbrini has spent this week studying film on the Flashes and has noticed they are particularly skilled on the power play. John Carroll has scored 43 power-play goals this season.

Despite not having much information on the Flashes, Matysiak is confident Illinois can beat them with speed and puck control to advance to the second round of the single-elimination tournament.

If the Illini beat John Carroll, they will face conference-opponent Robert Morris on Friday. Illinois will have to win four games to make it to Tuesday’s championship game.

Fabbrini’s approach to this weekend is to take one game at a time.

“It’s going to be very important for us to focus on each individual game and each individual shift,” Fabbrini said. “If we look past John Carroll and worry about Robert Morris, there’s a chance we might not even get to play Robert Morris.”

Fabbrini also noted it will be crucial for the Illini to keep their composure and stay focused during the tournament.

Staying focused might be a little easier for Illinois this weekend. With the tournament in Ohio, the Illini will be away from any distractions that could be going on in Champaign this weekend.

As a result of the ACHA tournament falling on the same weekend every year, Matysiak, a senior, has never been on campus during Unofficial. But he hasn’t won an ACHA championship either.

“It’s championship or bust for us,” Matysiak said. “We’re doing something that 20,000 kids can’t be doing and that’s playing for a national championship and being one of the best teams in the country.”

 

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@MattGertsmeier