Cyclone Hockey skated well in both Friday and Saturday's wins against Northern Illinois in their 7-0 and 6-0 respective wins.
A win is a win, and the Cyclones will certainly take the two they picked up last weekend, but it's hard to take much from beating a Northern Illinois that only has three wins. The real tests will start to come as the team goes into the homestretch of the season.
Those tests start against the University of Illinois team who's record is a strong 12-7-3 (good for a No. 12 spot in this week's ACHA rankings). The Cyclones are ranked 25th, going down three spots despite the sweep, and go into Champaign with a 15-9-1-1 record.
Based solely on those stats alone, this is shaping up to be a key matchup. The Cyclones will need more wins against quality opponents in order to continue their season into March for the ACHA playoffs. But this is an inter-conference matchup, a rivalry game and a road series that has serious potential to give the Cyclones exactly what they need — quality wins on the road against ranked opponents.
"We have enough motivation on a number of other levels... playing a league rival in their arena on the road" said coach Jason Fairman.
Dylan Goggin, Ray Zimmerman and Max Kamper have been the Cyclones' primary goal scorers, all with at least eight. Illinois counters with three goal scorers over 10 (Thomas Kolaz, Braden Stewart and Kacper Ryba). Nikita Kozak has been a top-5 goalie in the ACHA for the Cyclones, so the Illinois goal scorers will have their work cut out for them.
A lot can be said about Iowa State's inability to find the back of the net consistently, and that was apparent the last time these two teams met in early November. That installation of the rivalry took place in Ames, with the Cyclones winning 3-0 on Friday, but the Fighting Illini answered back with a 2-0 win on Saturday.
Max Kamper has had the hot hand as of Saturday, and he also picked up a goal in the 3-0 win earlier in the season. The other two came from Stuart Pearson and Joey Marcuccilli, respectively.
From this upcoming weekend until essentially the end of the season, it's going to be consistent tests to see whether the Cyclones belongs with the higher ranked teams. They still have 17th ranked Central Oklahoma, seventh ranked Ohio, and 16th ranked Oklahoma at home, as well as powerhouse (and third ranked) Lindenwood on the road.
If the Cyclones can pick up some of those crucial wins (especially on the road), they'll almost certainly find themselves in the ACHA playoffs. But it starts with trying to pick up quality road wins against Illinois, and using that to build some momentum and go into the series with higher ranked opponents with more confidence.
This series takes place on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign, and both pucks drop at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday.