Goalie Kris Carlson believes the Central Illinois Flying Aces have the skills and the appetite to make teams around the USHL take notice.
“It’s a high energy group. I think we’re all hungry for wins, to prove what we can do,” he said after practice earlier this week. “Sometimes it seems like we’re getting overlooked, but we’re definitely hungry.”
With a reservation booked for Saturday night in Wisconsin, the Aces will be dining opposite the Green Bay Gamblers at Resch Center. First puck will be served at 7:05 p.m.
“I think now we have an idea of how to play on the road because all our games are on the road,” said first-year Central Illinois coach Mike Watt, whose team was originally supposed to play two home games this weekend before ongoing rink upgrades at Grossinger Motors Arena altered the schedule.
“We understand what we need to do; we need to weather the storm in the first 5-10 minutes of the first period when teams are at home and pretty amped up.”
While both teams enter the contest at 2-0-0 atop the Eastern Conference, the Aces have a 9-3 scoring differential compared to 4-2 for Green Bay. Gamblers goalie Maksim Zhukov, a Vegas Golden Knights draft pick this summer, stopped 45 of 47 shots against Cedar Rapids and Dubuque.
“They’re a good team. They play fast and they’re pretty similar to how we play,” said Watt. “They’ve got great goaltending in Zhukov.”
The Aces got good goaltending as well in sweeping Youngstown. Carlson and rookie Zach Stejskal combined to turn aside 47 shots. Carlson said he feels a strong partnership developing between them.
“We both like to win for sure. So in practice, it’s important to have that competitive sort of juice and energy from your goalie partner,” he said. “He’s a great goalie too and I try to learn from him as hopefully he can learn from me as well.”
Carlson credited the Aces’ defense with limiting Youngstown’s second-chance opportunities with last week’s success. What did Watt see from his backstop tandem?
“Composure,” he answered. “Especially in the first period of both games, we gave up some grade-A chances and they both made some big plays and key saves at key times, which allowed us to counter off a couple of them and get up ice on some odd-man rushes.
“I liked how both of them were pretty poised for their first game. Both of them competed very well.”
Led by Matt Gosiewski (2 goals, 2 assists) and Max Andreev (1 goal, 3 assists), Central Illinois had nine players register at least two points over the first two games. Conversely, Brock Caufield’s two assists lead the Gamblers, who got goals from four different players.
“We were really excited,” said Gosiewski. “It’s always good to start a season (strong) and hopefully we keep building off it.”