Hockey: CSCHL teams to compete in Athens tourney

Ohio forward Tyler Pilmore takes a shot on net as the Ohio Bobcats defeat the Kent State Golden Flashes 12-4, on February 8, 2013 at Bird Arena. (Daniel Kubus | Staff Photographer)

This weekend at Bird Arena, Ohio will host five other teams vying to take home the Central States Collegiate Hockey League Tournament crown.

The task is daunting, as the CSCHL is arguably the best conference in the country, with five of its six teams ranked in the Top 12 of the American Collegiate Hockey Association.

“It says a lot and shows you how tough our league is,” Ohio coach Dan Morris said.

Five games will decide the CSCHL champion.  

1st Seed: Illinois, 23-10-2, No. 7 in ACHA
A sleeper to win the conference for most of the season, the Illini surged at the end of the season, winning seven of their final eight conference games to capture the regular season title.

They’ve been led by the consistent goaltending of junior Nick Clarke, who has started 32 of the team’s 35 games and is only allowing 2.61 goals with a save percentage of 90.

Illinois’ offense is balanced between freshman John Olen, senior Scott Barrera, junior Austin Bostock and freshman Kevin Chowaniec, who all have at least 14 goals and 17 assists.

The Illini last won the CSCHL tournament during the 2007–08 season.

First Game: Winner of Robert Morris/Iowa State, 4 p.m. Saturday

2nd Seed: Lindenwood, 13-11-4, No. 9 in ACHA
Coach Rick Zombo described his team as underachievers, despite finishing second in the CSCHL. He challenged them with a schedule that included only one team (Indiana), who didn’t make the ACHA national tournament, to prepare them for big games.

In order to come out with a championship Sunday, Zombo said his team has to play together.

“Nobody’s good enough to be an individual, even though we have a tremendous amount of skill,” he said. “It’s the cohesiveness of team play that wins.”

A national championship is the Lions’ goal for every season, but Zombo doesn’t want his team to look ahead of the conference tournament.

“We’re fortunate that in our league, there are five really strong teams that could win,” Zombo said. “Indiana has an awful lot of pushback and can be a surprise if you’re not ready.”

First Game: Winner of Ohio/Indiana, 7:30 p.m. Saturday

3rd Seed: Ohio, 24-7-3, No. 4 in ACHA
The Bobcats are coming into the tournament red hot, winning seven straight ACHA matchups and averaging 7.1 goals per game during that stretch.

But the hot finish to the season wasn’t enough to earn the Bobcats a first round bye and now, Morris’s team will have to win three games in three days to add an eighth CSCHL tournament championship banner.

“(Winning the tournament) means a lot to us,” Morris said. “We’ve put a lot on that, and it’s one of the goals we strive for throughout the year. This gets you ready for nationals, and you want to see your guys perform.”

First Game: Indiana, 7:30 p.m. Friday

4th Seed: Robert Morris, 26-6-1, No. 5 in ACHA
Robert Morris has trotted out one of the most balanced attacks in the CSCHL, with a league-high 173 goals scored and a league-low of 67 goals allowed.

The Eagles will be looking to highlight parts of their game they feel will be crucial to their success in the ACHA national tournament in March, which they’re hosting, coach Tom Adrahtas said.

“We aren’t setting goals any goals in terms of game results (this weekend),” he said. “If we win, of course we’ll be happy. But we are not making this weekend a be-all end-all.”

The last time the Eagles traveled to Athens, they were swept by a red-hot Bobcat team and outscored 9-5 in the sweep. But since then, Robert Morris is 4-2, with the two losses coming in a sweep against Illinois last weekend.

“Our goals from day one were to finish ranked in the Top 10, be in a position to win the (CSCHL) regular season and take a step closer to competing for a national championship,” Adrahtas said. “We’ve accomplished the first two, but our third goal is the one we want most.”

First Game: Iowa State, 4 p.m. Friday

5th Seed: Iowa State, 20-15-3, No. 12 in ACHA
With a three-pronged goalie attack in sophomore Scott Ismond, senior Paul Karus and junior Matthew Cooper, the Cyclones present one of the more unique challenges in the conference.

All three goalies have save percentages in the 90 to 94 percent range and are collectively allowing 2.6 goals per game. That average is second best only to Robert Morris, who is only allowing a striking 2.03 average.

But to get through this weekend unscathed, coach Alan Murdoch, whose name is on the ACHA championship cup, said his team will need more than solid goaltending to be successful.

“(We need) good and balanced effort from all of our players,” Murdoch said. “We would like to take it a game at a time and win it all.”

First Game: Robert Morris, 4 p.m. Friday

6th Seed: Indiana, 14-14-2, Unranked in ACHA
The Hoosiers are the only CSCHL team to not earn a bid to the ACHA national tournament or be ranked in the Top 12 of the league.

Despite not earning a bid, the Hoosiers have seen marked improvement in their performance since head coach Jan Jas took over. The 14-win mark is the most Indiana has recorded since 2009-10.

The improvement didn’t translate to conference play, as Indiana only won two games in conference, including a shootout win at Bird Arena on Nov. 9.

First Game: Ohio, 7:30 p.m. Friday

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