BLOOMINGTON — It took longer than originally expected, but the Twin Cities’ hockey team finally gets to show off its new look in its hometown.
After delays, schedule changes and four games in a temporary residence to allow for rink upgrades, the rebranded Central Illinois Flying Aces play their true home opener at 7:07 p.m. Friday in the renamed-since-last-season Grossinger Motors Arena.
“I’m going to have a lot of family and friends in town for this game,” said second-year defenseman Brady Smith, a Bloomington native.
“It’s really exciting. They’ve done a really good job with our arena so far ... it’s come along really nicely. We’re really happy to be back home in Bloomington.”
The Aces welcome the Youngstown Phantoms on Friday before the Dubuque Fighting Saints come to town Saturday night. The team is giving away a $1,000 prize to one fan at each of the first five games at the Arena.
“I know the boys are champing at the bit to get out there and get in front of our fans in Bloomington,” said first-year coach Mike Watt. “We’ve had some time now to practice on the ice, practice in the facility. It’s been a little bit of a wait but at the same time I think everything’s coming to fruition now and we’re just excited to be back home.”
Central Illinois (6-5-1) has shown a tendency to be streaky. The Aces started with three wins, then lost four in a row followed by three more wins before a 3-0 loss Wednesday morning at Muskegon.
“We got frustrated in Muskegon because we did have chances and opportunities and we didn’t capitalize. It was a pretty chippy game and we had some frustration where we let it boil over,” said Watt, whose team will be without one of its leading scorers as Max Andreev serves a two-game suspension for a charging offense in Wednesday’s game.
“We just have to execute. We know what we can do; it’s the old cliché that we focus on what we do best. We’re an exciting hockey club when we get up and we get going and we have the pace. We have a lot of very, very good skaters on this team that can create just from their speed alone, and they’re pretty deceptive.”
Youngstown (2-4-3), which opened the season with two losses to the Aces, sits last in the Eastern Conference following a loss at Muskegon and an overtime setback against Team USA. Dubuque (4-3-1) carries a three-game win streak into its Friday home game against Chicago.
“I think if we keep playing the way we go, get pucks deep and get shots on net, I think we’re going to have a good game and bounce back,” said Smith.
“This early in the season we’ve seen both teams twice now,” said Watt. “We haven’t had success against Dubuque but I think we had some opportunities that we didn’t capitalize. It’s going to be a very good series this weekend for us, kind of a gut-check time to see where we’re at and see where our execution level is at.”
Promotions: In addition to the $1,000 giveaway, the first 1,000 fans will receive magnet schedules. Concessions will sell 12-ounce domestic beers and 24-ounce sodas for $3. Saturday will be Military Appreciation Night, with camouflage hats going to the first 1,000 fans and hot dogs available for $1.