Max Andreev has been right in the middle of many good things for the Central Illinois Flying Aces so far, appropriately.
“It’s just my job as a center,” said Andreev, who has a goal and a league-best seven assists through five games. “You’ve got to pass the puck and that’s how I’ve played my whole life.
“My linemates, we’ve found the chemistry and it’s working out. I’m just trying to do my best out there and play like I’ve played before in all the years they taught me to play. I’m just doing my job.”
Although the best start in franchise history fizzled last weekend with losses at Madison and Cedar Rapids, Andreev registered three assists and extended his point streak to five games.
“He just does the little things, the intangibles,” said coach Mike Watt, whose team opens a three-game weekend Friday at Dubuque ahead of the first two home-away-from-home games at Peoria’s Carver Arena. “He has a very workmanlike mentality. But he has the skill where he can create and find his teammates.”
Central Illinois (3-2-0) will be looking to rebound after coming up empty last weekend. Saturday’s loss was particularly disappointing after the Aces built a 3-0 lead in the second period only to see Cedar Rapids claim a 5-3 win.
“I feel like when we scored the third goal, guys got relaxed and felt that it was going to be a point night,” said Andreev. “We stopped working hard and the USHL is a tough league, every team can come back in a game like that. If you’re not doing your best job out there, you’re going to lose the game.”
Watt is eager for this weekend so the team can turn the page quickly.
“You hit the reset button. My perspective is that we have an opportunity to make amends,” he said. “You have to have a positive perspective on it; I think if you bring too much negativity into it, you start to regress as a team and you focus on the past when there’s such a bright future in the locker room.”
After outscoring their foes 12-5 in the first three games, the Aces have seen that differential dwindle to plus-2 (17-15). Central Illinois went 0-for-14 on the power play in the losses and has two goals in 23 advantages (8.7 percent).
“You have to shoot pucks on the power play and I don’t think we’ve generated enough shots. I think we have too many guys that are looking to make too many passes,” said Watt. “In the game of hockey, the time to be selfish is to shoot the puck. There’s no bad outcome from a shot on net.”
The three-game weekend will be physically taxing, especially with the first two contests coming in a single 24-hour period. After a 7:05 p.m. faceoff Friday at Dubuque (1-3-1), the Aces and Fighting Saints face a 3:07 p.m. rematch Saturday in Peoria. The Sunday game against Waterloo (4-1-0) at Carver Arena begins at 4:07 p.m.
“Three games in three days is probably the toughest thing in junior hockey,” said Andreev. “Your body gets very tired after the second game and the third game is a grind. We’ve just got to do our best the first two games and if we get two ‘Ws’ we’ll see how it goes in the third game.”
Dubuque has tallied a mere six goals in its five games and has no player with more than one score or two assists, although goalie Jaxon Castor sports a 2.42 goals-against average. Waterloo is led by left wingers Garrett Wait (1 goal, 5 assists) and Ethan Johnson (2 goals, 3 assists), with backstops Jared Moe and Matej Tomek each posting two wins.
“I think we just have to focus on our game and what we want to do, how we want to attack it,” said Watt. “What it’s really going to come down to is execution on our part.”