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Ohio forward Matt Rudin (#27) fights for a puck during the third period of the Bobcats’ game against Lindenwood on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018.

Hockey: Ohio's league still the league to beat

Of the seven leagues that comprise the American Collegiate Hockey Association, the Bobcats undoubtedly play in the toughest.

The Central States Collegiate Hockey League has sunk its teeth into the ACHA as the league with the teams to beat. As of the last computer polls that were released on Feb. 6, all five teams were ranked in the top-25, ranging from No. 1 to No. 16.

In the last six years, each team has made at least one national championship appearance, and it was highlighted by the 2015-16 championship when Lindenwood played Iowa State.

The 2018-19 season has been no exception, and as the regular season comes to a close and the CSCHL tournament draws near, The Post breaks down each team.

No. 1 Lindenwood

The Lions (23-1-0, 13-0-0 CSCHL), from the first puck drop of the season back in September, have proven that they are the best team in the ACHA Men’s Division I pool. They rattled off an unprecedented 19 consecutive wins with their first loss coming in the middle of a three-game stretch to Central Oklahoma.

Led by Jake Townsend (40 total points, 13 goals, 27 assists) and Ryan Finnegan (37 total points, 9 goals, 28 assists), the CSCHL’s regular season champions are poised to make a deep postseason run.

In league play, Lindenwood went undefeated with few struggles in the process. It averaged 4.84 goals per league game, while it only allowed 1.46 goals per game.

While it was scheduled to play a full league season, Lindenwood lucked out as its second series against Ohio and the Saturday game against Robert Morris-Illinois were cancelled.

Lindenwood closes out the season on back-to-back road trips against Davenport and Arkansas.

No. 4 Iowa State

The Cyclones (16-6-2, 5-5-2 CSCHL) have shown they have potential to be one of the best teams in the country. Against the upper-tier teams in the league such as Lindenwood and Ohio, the Cyclones have been marred by inconsistent performances. Swept twice by the Lions, Iowa State only scored an average of two goals per game in its year series with the Lions, compared to their 4.25 goals per game. The Cyclones were then defeated 4-1 by the Bobcats, but they beat the Bobcats 5-3 with their fifth goal scored on an empty net.

When Iowa State showed its identity was against Robert Morris-Illinois and Illinois. A combined 4-1-1 against its other two league rivals, Iowa State was able to find ways to win against traditionally tough programs.

The Cyclones have two more league series remaining on their schedule as they travel to Ohio and Illinois. Their last series of the season is at home against Central Michigan.

No. 5 Ohio

The Bobcats (16-3-6, 5-3-4 CSCHL) have had their fair share of highs and lows this season. All three of their regulation losses have come at the hands of their league rivals – Lindenwood, Iowa State and Illinois. Ohio’s three regulation losses are among the least of all teams in the ACHA and the second least in the CSCHL behind Lindenwood.

Where the Bobcats downfall has been is games that go past regulation. Earlier in the 2019 portion of the schedule, they were swept on the road by Robert Morris-Illinois in overtime and in a shoot-out. The following weekend, Illinois defeated Ohio in a shoot-out.

The overtime losses, however, aren’t bad for rankings as they still get points for the defeats.

Ohio has one league series remaining as it plays host to Iowa State on Feb. 15 and 16. The Bobcats end their season in Bird Arena against Kent State.

No. 13 Illinois

The Illini (13-13-5, 4-7-3 CSCHL) are following their national runner-up season from a year ago not in the way they anticipated. Illinois, with its seven regulation losses in league play, ties Robert Morris-Illinois for the most regulation losses in league play this season.

Where the Illini have found success, however, is at home. At the “Big Pond” this season, they have gone 2-3-1. Its three regulation losses were to Lindenwood twice and Ohio once, but margin of defeat – just a goal – is an impressive feat for a program that is in the midst of rebuilding following a large graduating class a season ago.

Illinois wraps up league play with a chance to build upon its home league record on Feb. 22 and 23 as it will host Iowa State.

No. 16 Robert Morris-Illinois

The Eagles (13-15-4, 6-7-1 CSCHL) have had a sour season for their standards. While their six league victories are the second most behind Lindenwood, their seven regulation losses are tied for last with Illinois. A program that traditionally finds itself in the top-10 each year, Robert Morris-Illinois is the midst of a rebuild as well. A year ago, it finished still in the middle of the pack in the final league standings, but it was closer to the top. This season, however, pending a miracle, the Eagles will claim the fifth-place spot.

Robert Morris-Illinois is finished with league play as it was defeated 4-2 by Lindenwood on Feb. 9.


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