The regular season matchups between No. 19 Cyclone Hockey (21-15-3) and the No. 21 Robert Morris Illinois Eagles (17-17-4) resulted in a sweep or be swept situation. Each team used its home ice to sweep the other.
In the fifth matchup this season, Cyclone Hockey came out on top 6-1 Friday night in the opening game of the Central States Collegiate Hockey League (CSCHL) playoffs.
The shot advantage for the Cyclones was 75-14, according to Head Coach Jason Fairman.
The Cyclones wasted no time grabbing the lead. Ray Zimmerman got the puck to Andrew Lee in the low slot. Lee fired the shot past Eagle goalie Chris Mallon at the 50-second mark of the first period.
Cyclone Hockey double its lead a few minutes later. Lee took the pass from Zimmerman and carried it up the left side and into the zone. Lee found defenseman Jordan Hillman in the slot for the goal at 4:56.
Cyclone forward Stuart Pearson made the lead 3-0 towards the end of the first. The puck found its way to Pearson just outside the edge of the crease, and he fired a shot passed Mallon to light the lamp at 17:37.
Fairman said the early scoring helped lift the Cyclones.
“I think it took the pressure off of us, and we were able to settle in and play our game,” Fairman said.
The first of two penalties on the night for the Cyclones came at 18:31 in the first. A tripping minor sent Hillman to the box. The Eagles scored just eight seconds into the power play, making the score 3-1.
Fairman said the Cyclones did not allow the Eagles to gain momentum from the goal.
“My only concern was that it was gonna give them a little bit of life, and I don’t know that it did so much,” Fairman said. “That was a strange goal. I don’t know how that snuck in.”
The Cyclones killed their other penalty on the night that occurred in the third period. Defenseman Justin Callahan went to the box at 8:55 for a hooking minor.
The second period saw only one goal. David Rutkowski took the puck behind the net and fired a pass to just outside the low slot on the opposite side of the goal. Erik Evans scored the one-timer at 7:41 on his favored left side.
The Cyclones scored two goals in quick succession in the third period. The first was by Pearson — his second of the night — at 6:54. Zimmerman tallied the other, after two assists earlier in the game, at 7:47 on the odd-man rush for the sixth and final Cyclone goal.
Cyclone Hockey plays No. 3 — and CSCHL No. 1 seed — Lindenwood in the CSCHL semifinals at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the University of Illinois Ice Arena. The game will be broadcasted on the Illini Hockey Broadcasting YouTube page.
“It’s always good to get a playoff win,” Fairman said. “Tomorrow will be a huge test for us. If we can prevail in the semifinals against, in my opinion, the best team in the nation, then anything can happen in that championship game.”