Cyclones begin tough November with trip to No. 3 Illinois

Member of the Cyclone Hockey club team looks for an open pass Sept. 22 during their first official game of the season against Illinois State. The cyclones won 4-1 with three of the four goals happening in the third period.

Spencer Suckow

Coming off a split in their last series against the No. 14 UNLV Skatin’ Rebels, things won’t get any easier for Cyclone Hockey as the team travels to Champaign, Illinois, this weekend to take on the No. 3 University of Illinois Fighting Illini.

This weekend’s series will be the first of what promises to be a grueling month of November for the Cyclones. Over the next three weeks, Iowa State will face three opponents ranked in the top 10 in the ACHA computer polls, including a near-perfect Illini team this weekend and defending national champion Central Oklahoma next weekend.

“We’ve always had challenging Novembers,” said Cyclone Hockey head coach and general manager Jason Fairman. “The last two years we’ve had, based on computer rankings, the strongest strength of schedule and we knew it was going to eventually happen.”

The Illini, a division rival of the Cyclones in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League, have yet to lose in regulation this season and currently sit at a 9-0-1 record overall. Their only loss was in a shootout to a tough Lindenwood squad that the Cyclones themselves split a series with a few weeks ago.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect about the Illini is their goals per game vs. goals allowed statistics. Coming into this weekend, Illinois has scored 51 goals and allowed only 14 in 10 games, which will be a major challenge for a Cyclone team that can be, at times, inconsistent with their scoring.

Senior goalie Derek Moser is well aware of the scoring prowess that the Illini possess. However, he said that the biggest key to slowing down their potent attack will likely have just as much, if not more, to do with rink they’re playing in than any single player.

The Illini play in an unconventional arena that’s much wider than your standard ice surface. While the Cyclones play on a standard, 200’ x 85’ NHL sized rink, Illinois plays on a surface that’s 197’ x 115’, which is even larger than a regulation sized olympic rink. This brings a whole new element of strategy into trying to slow the team down, according to Moser.

“The biggest key to holding them in check would probably be adjusting to playing on their ridiculous ice surface,” Moser said. “It’s really going to, for us, come down to protecting the house.”

Despite the advantages that Illinois’ unusual rink may provide, those advantages haven’t necessarily shown up in the win column against the Cyclones. Fairman mentioned that records can be thrown out the window when the two teams play, and that’s held true as the Cyclones and Illini have split the season series the last three seasons, with the Cyclones getting a sweep in Champaign just last year.

That kind of evenness in record, along with the fact that the two are division rivals, has lead to some chippy, competitive affairs in the past couple of years. Junior forward Colton Kramer doesn’t expect that to change at all this weekend, either.

“We’ve played them quite a bit over the last few years I’ve been here, and it’s always a gritty game,” Kramer said. “They try to get under our skin and they’ll do it sometimes.”

The puck will drop at 7:30 p.m. Friday night for the first game of the series.