By Kim Wrona
9/18/17 – DeKalb, IL | The D2 Huskies opened up the 2017-18 season on home ice with two games against the Central Michigan University Chippewas on September 15 and 16.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, the visitors went on to sweep the weekend.
The Huskies trailed early in Friday night’s game at Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee, IL. The Chippewas took the lead during a power play just before the three minute mark of the first period. Senior forward Matthew Gould tied the game back up for NIU with his first goal of the season with just over four minutes to go in the opening frame.
The Chippewas regained their lead with less than two minutes to play in the period. The visitors would add to their lead in the second period with a power play marker with 3:16 left in the frame.
With 1:22 to go in the sandwich stanza, freshman defenseman Robert Apter netted his first goal in a Huskies sweater with a shot from the top of the right circle during a power play to cut the NIU deficit to one. Nine seconds later, the Chippewas restored their two goal lead.
The Huskies continued to fight back as they closed the gap to one again just before the 1:30 mark of the third period as senior forward Jordan Niedziela tallied his first goal of the season. Unfortunately for the Huskies, the Chippewas scored two more times during the remainder of regulation—including a power play goal—to make the final score 6-3 in the visitors’ favor.
Senior goaltender JoJo Durrbeck made 28 saves on 34 shots in the contest. Central Michigan outshot NIU by a 34-32 margin. The Chippewas went 3-6 on the power play while the Huskies went 1-6 on the man advantage.
Saturday afternoon’s contest got off to a better start for the Huskies. Sophomore forward Brad Krauser netted his first goal in a Huskies uniform with a shot from the slot to make it 1-0 in NIU’s favor at 5:41 of the first period. The Chippewas rallied back to score three consecutive goals during the remainder of the opening frame to take a 3-1 lead into the second period; the third goal was a power play tally.
The Huskies netted a power play goal with a shot from above the right circle by junior forward Nick Treiber at the 6:07 mark of the second period. The marker was Treiber’s first tally as a Huskie and cut the NIU deficit to two goals.
The Chippewas restored their three goal lead with a late marker in the second period to make it 5-2. That was how the final score stood as the Chippewas picked up the weekend sweep over the Huskies.
Junior goaltender Thomas Terrence made 28 saves on 33 shots in his Huskies debut. NIU outshot CMU by a 37-33 margin. The Chippewas went 1-5 on the power play while the Huskies went 1-9 on the man advantage.
“Our defensive zone was pretty bad [Friday] and [Saturday],” head coach Nick Madonia said. “We had stretches where we were ok, but we started running around and losing our assignments. We also left a lot of sticks unchecked in front of the net [and] they scored [on] a lot of rebounds. We need to take care of the house. On the fifth goal [on Saturday], I was standing right in line with the shot and I couldn’t see Tommy. All I saw was net. We need to do a better job inside the house, making sure we’re helping our goalies out.”
“I think we just need to jell a little bit, get the systems going,” senior defenseman Tommy Turner said. “We haven’t had much time to work on just playing with each other. There are a lot of new guys and I think once we get that under our belts, we’ll be in a lot better shape.”
Special teams will be a focus for the Huskies this week in practice as they head into next weekend’s games against MACHA Conference rival Illinois State University.
“The biggest thing is staying out of the box,” Turner said. “That’s the best way to have a penalty kill is to not even let yourself in the box. As far as the power play goes, it’s just going to take time to mesh with each other.”
“Our penalty kill needs to see less ice time,” Madonia said. “Our power play looked better once we made a couple of changes [on Saturday]. We’ve only been together as a team for a few weeks and it’s not like previous years where we’re bringing in two or three new guys and trying to teach them the ropes. We’re trying to pretty much roll over half our roster and get them acclimated to the college game, the speed and a little bit less time to make decisions.”
The Huskies battled hard during the weekend, despite dropping both games, and that’s a positive to take out of the homestand, according to Madonia.
“Like I told the guys in the locker room, we didn’t roll over and die,” Madonia said. “I feel like last year, we’d go into the third period on Saturday down 5-2 and we’d lose the game 9-2. We played through the whole third period and never stopped moving our feet, never stopped going. The new guys have looked good. There’s going to be a learning curve. But I think the positives will outweigh the negatives.”
“The biggest positive is definitely the culture in the locker room,” Turner said. “No one got too upset over the hard times and we really came back and battled back. It’s nice to see that positivity.”
The Huskies will go on their first road trip during the 2017-18 season this weekend with a trip to Bloomington, IL to take on the ISU Redbirds. NIU and ISU will face-off at 9:10 p.m. on September 22 and at 5:50 p.m. on September 23 at the Pepsi Ice Center in Bloomington.