By Kim Paulsen
12/17/2021 – DeKalb, IL | After not being able to play hockey during the 2020-2021 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the DI Huskies returned to the ice for game play on September 17 to kick off their 2021-2022 season.
There were many ups and downs over the course of the 2021 fall semester, but one thing remained consistent for the Huskies: their hard-working team identity.
“We’re a hard-working team,” head coach Nick Madonia said. “There’s really no quit [in our game]. All of the league coaches that we’ve played have been almost shocked with the effort level that comes out of us. […] Even if we’re down by two or three during the last 30 seconds of the game, we’re still battling and going hard.”
The Huskies’ hard-working team identity was evident from the opening weekend of the semester when NIU traveled to take on John Carroll University–a very good puck-moving team–in Ohio.
During the first game of the season on September 17, the Huskies found ways to chip away at a JCU lead in the final 20 minutes of the game despite coming up short and dropping the contest by a score of 6-2. Junior forward Austin Walny scored the first Huskies goal of the season 34 seconds into the third period and junior forward Hunter Wahl added his first marker of the season just over seven minutes later.
The next day on September 18, the Huskies found themselves down 4-0 to JCU before the eight minute mark of the second period. Junior forward and team captain Rodahn Evans tallied his first goal of the season with roughly 3:30 left in the middle frame to jumpstart the Huskies’ near comeback.
Evans would net his second goal of the game with a power play goal at 2:20 of the third period and freshman forward Midas Bacidore netted his first collegiate goal just under three minutes later to cut the NIU deficit to one goal.
The Huskies had many chances to tie the game up thanks to three power play opportunities in the final frame, but they just weren’t able to convert, despite clawing their way out of a large deficit, and dropped the game by a score of 4-3. Evans finished with three points (2G, A) in the contest while Bacidore picked up two points (G, A) and Wahl did as well (2A).
The following weekend, the Huskies faced-off against Purdue University-Northwest in a home-and-home series. The Huskies’ kicked off the weekend on September 24 with their home opener at Canlan Ice Sports West Dundee in West Dundee.
After a scoreless first period, the visitors took an early lead in the middle frame, but the Huskies battled back in the sandwich stanza to take a 2-1 lead thanks to junior forward Mason Ihrke’s first tally of the season and graduate defenseman Robert Apter’s first marker of the year which came on the power play.
Purdue tied the game up with less than five minutes to go in regulation which sent the game into overtime. The Huskies dominated the extra frame thanks to their work ethic. In fact, the team spent nearly the whole overtime in the offensive zone and had multiple prime scoring chances, but drew iron a few times and the Purdue goaltender made some big saves at key moments.
The contest eventually went into a shootout, but the visitors came out on top, handing the Huskies a 3-2 loss. A bright spot in the game for NIU was the fact the Huskies were able to kill off all six of Purdue’s man advantages. NIU also outshot the visitors 46-28.
The following day on September 25, freshman forward Luke Marks scored his first collegiate goal for the Huskies despite dropping the game by a score of 6-1.
“Luke Marks has played anywhere from first pairing defense to first, second, third line center [this season],” Madonia said. “If I asked Luke Marks to put on goalie gear tomorrow, he’d be in net playing goal. The kid’s awesome.”
The Huskies picked up their first victory of the season on October 1 over Western Michigan University. NIU jumped out to a four goal lead by the halfway point of the game. The Broncos snapped senior goaltender Brian Eisele’s shutout bid later in the period, but NIU responded by scoring two more times in the frame for a four-goal second period and to give the Huskies a 6-1 lead. Both teams scored twice in the third, but the Huskies held on for the 8-3 victory. NIU also outshot WMU 52-46 in the tilt.
“Brian has played lights out for us,” Madonia noted about his senior goaltender.
Senior forward Brandon Ledyard scored his first two goals of the season in the victory. Junior defenseman Alec Porzondek and junior forward Hunter Pierce both picked up their first tallies of the season as well. Evans recorded a three point game (2G, A) while Bacidore and Walny both added their second goals of the season in the contest, too.
“That was a good game,” Madonia said. “[Evans] set the tone right off the bat. He scored off the opening face-off and we just kind of rolled from there. That game we showed a lot of discipline. Western was trying to start a lot of stuff after whistles and during play. We didn’t really take the bait. We took the power plays. […] It was just nice to get that win off our shoulders.”
The Huskies’ first win of the season was big, not just from a team perspective, but for Madonia personally as well.
“For me, personally, that was a huge game because that gave me a win at DIII, DII and now DI at Northern,” Madonia said. “That was one of the times where I kind of stepped back and appreciated everything because I never expected to have a chance to come back with the way things ended previously.”
The Huskies took on Waldorf University on October 8 and 9 in Minnesota. After a rough first period on Friday where the Huskies found themselves in a 6-2 hole, freshman goaltender Grant Goodson came into the game in relief to begin the second period and played lights out for the rest of the contest, stopping all 39 shots he faced.
“Another one of our strengths [this season] is our goaltending,” Madonia said. “Grant Goodson came in as a young freshman. He’s got a .917 save percentage in four games and […] he’s been really impressive. He’s got a ridiculously bright future.”
Unfortunately for the Huskies, they couldn’t mount a comeback offensively in that contest and dropped the game by a score of 6-3 despite killing off all six Waldorf man advantages.
The Huskies dropped Saturday’s contest 4-1 against their MCH Conference foes as well, but junior forward Randy Apter netted his first tally of the season in the game.
On October 22 and 23, the Huskies traveled to Nebraska for another set of MCH Conference games against Midland University. NIU dropped Friday’s contest, but started Saturday’s contest on a better foot by jumping out to an early lead. Senior forward Tyler Gut tallied his first goal of the season at 2:12 of the first period, though the two teams then traded tallies and were tied at two after the opening frame.
Eisele made 46 saves on 51 shots in the contest, but the Huskies weren’t able to break the tie and fell to Midland by a score of 5-2.
The Huskies were finally back at home on October 29 and 30 as they hosted McKendree University. Friday’s game was closely contested as Eisele stopped all 21 shots he faced and the McKendree goaltender stopped all 26 shots he faced.
The visitors broke the scoreless tie 15 seconds into the third period, but the Huskies were able to tie the game up with just over four minutes left in regulation thanks to Ledyard’s fifth goal of the season, which sent the game into overtime. Despite the hard-working effort throughout the entire game, McKendree was able to score at 2:22 of the extra frame to grab the victory. Overall, Eisele made 34 saves on 36 shots in the contest.
Saturday’s first period was also a scoreless affair between the Huskies and McKendree, though the visitors exploded for three goals in the second period. The Huskies fought back and answered with two goals from Evans to bring them within one goal. NIU made a late push with the goalie pulled for the extra attacker, but McKendree added an empty net goal with 56 seconds left to take the game by a score of 4-2.
The Huskies were back on the road in Missouri on November 5 and 6 for two MCH Conference games against a very good puck-moving team in Maryville University. On Friday, junior forward Nick Gonzalez tallied his first goal of the season while Evans tallied his tenth goal on the 2021-2022 campaign. Despite those memorable moments on Friday, NIU dropped the contest by a score of 6-3.
With the semester winding down, the Huskies were back on home ice on November 19 and 20 for another set of MCH Conference games against Midland University. The Huskies dropped both games, though an important event that happened during Saturday’s game was that sophomore forward Matt Martin tallied his first goal of the season and it came on the power play.
“Matt Martin’s really fit into his role really well as a third line center,” Madonia noted.
To wrap up the 2021 fall semester, the Huskies traveled down to Bloomington, IL to take on Illinois State University in two MCH Conference games on December 4 and 5. Saturday’s game featured a scoreless first period and then saw ISU break the ice on the scoreboard with a shorthanded goal early in the second period.
The Huskies stormed back though in the sandwich stanza with two goals to take a 2-1 lead. Wahl tallied a power play goal for his third marker of the season while Walny also added his third goal of the year.
Wahl netted his second tally of the game and fourth of the year at 7:20 of the third period to give NIU a two-goal lead. The Redbirds tacked a goal on late in regulation, but the Huskies were able to hang on to pick up their second victory of the season by a score of 3-2.
Wahl recorded a three point game (2G, A) as did Walny (G, 2A). Evans also picked up two assists on the evening. Sophomore goaltender Ben Vutci made 34 saves on 36 shots in the contest as well.
“Ben was phenomenal,” Madonia said about his goaltender’s performance against ISU, “and he’s had a couple other games where he has stood on his head.”
“It’s always nice to beat ISU, especially going down there [and doing it],” Madonia said. “ISU games always feel like big games. The coaching staff on the bench that weekend was Rob Kalata, who was their leading scorer for a couple years, and Jeremy Bower, who went to and played roller [hockey] for ISU. So, it was a really cool game for us […] and especially to close it out like that. […] We were able to tighten everything down [even after taking a penalty] and finish the game out.”
Some of the brightest aspects from the 2021 fall semester to Madonia are how well players have fit into their roles on the team and how well the new guys on the team have played.
“Guys have fit into roles very well,” Madonia said. “I think a lot of the new guys have been the highlight of the season. I would say [freshman defenseman] Keaton Peters has been phenomenal on the backend. As a rookie, he has an ‘A’ and he’s eating 20 to 25 minutes a game easily and playing in all situations, power play, penalty kill, even strength, last five minutes of a game, up by a goal, down by a goal. He’s jumpin’ every time. [..] Our new guys have just been great which bodes well for our future.”
The DI Huskies will kick off the 2022 spring semester portion of their 2021-2022 season with two games against Roosevelt University at 7:15 PM on January 7 and 8 at the Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville.