BLOOMINGTON — Central Illinois Flying Aces defenseman Charlie Raith has taken well to his new roommate, Wojciech Stachowiak.
“He’s definitely adjusted real quick,” Raith said of Stachowiak, a 6-foot-1, 187-pound winger from Gdansk, Poland. “Living with him, he’s a good kid off the ice too. He’s gotten acclimated pretty quickly to the league and he’s brought a lot of offense and some more skill up front.”
In just his second game with the Aces on Saturday against Dubuque, Stachowiak had a big impact with Raith as beneficiary.
After pulling Central Illinois even late in the third period with his second goal of the night, Stachowiak sent a saucer pass to Raith for a one-timer that resulted in a 6-5 overtime victory at Grossinger Motors Arena.
“I saw we had an odd-man rush going the other way,” said Raith. “I saw Wojciech coming down the right side, so I drove hard and I knew he’d get it to me. It was a nice pass.
“That was huge, especially against a team like Dubuque. They got two from us earlier in the season so it was a huge win for us.”
By picking up three standings points in their first two games at the Arena, the Aces moved into second place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference at 17-15-1 ahead of Saturday’s 6:05 p.m. (Central) meeting with the Team USA under-18 squad Saturday in Plymouth, Mich.
“It’s a group that’s extremely talented,” first-year coach Mike Watt said of the 18s, who are led by Cole Caufield’s seven goals and two assists in just four games. “We put in a game plan where we have to have patience in our game.
"They’ve got a number of extremely talented individuals, and we just have to break those individuals into pieces to where you don’t let them collectively get on a roll.”
Stachowiak, who has dual Polish-German citizenship, registered 12 goals and 12 assists in 12 games in the German Development League before coming to Central Illinois. Watt has been impressed so far.
“He’s got high-end skill and he’s much stronger than I anticipated. He’s able to play physical, play in high traffic areas,” said Watt. “He has very good vision and very good creativity around the net. We’re just thrilled to have him because he brings so much to the table for us.”
As for Raith, his first goal of the season was just the start of a big week. On Wednesday he announced his commitment to play Division I hockey at Notre Dame.
“That means the absolute world to me. It’s a university that has a ton of respect and I’ve got some family ties to it, so it’s pretty special,” he said. “I’m just thankful, thankful to my teammates and coaches and everyone that’s supported me along the way.”
The Aces will get center Max Andreev back from a two-game suspension on Saturday, helping a squad that had four other key players out with injuries last weekend.
“We had over 25 points (sitting) in the stands,” said Watt, who hopes to have Griffin Lunn and Jacob Olbing back but will still be without Jamie Armstrong and Jason Smallidge (injured reserve). “I was quite pleased with the work ethic and how they battled back as a team, kind of overcoming some adversity.”
Raith said he and his teammates are eager to meet the challenge presented by Team USA.
“They’re a big, skilled team,” he said. “If we can play hard (defense) and limit their offense, we’re confident we’ll be able to create our own. We’re pretty confident we can play with them and beat them.”