by Kim Wrona
2/6/14—DeKalb, IL In the second to last weekend of the regular season, the D2 Huskies hosted Aurora University at Fox Valley Ice Arena on January 31st and February 1st.
During Friday’s game, the Huskies overcame a 1-0 deficit in the first period and were able to get out to a 2-1 lead early in the second period courtesy of junior forwards Justin Rucinski and Anthony Ricciardi. Both tallies came on the power play.
Aurora was able to tie the game up at two with a power play goal of their own 48 seconds before the halfway mark of the sandwich stanza. Power play goals continued to be a theme in this contest as the Huskies tallied two more before the period ended. Senior forward Nick Leon scored on a two man advantage and followed that up with another power play goal 40 seconds later to give NIU a 4-2 lead with 3:56 left in the second.
Aurora was able to make a comeback despite the two goal deficit. The Spartans scored 45 seconds after Leon’s second tally to bring the score within one and was able to tie the game around five minutes into the third period. Aurora then picked up tallies just before the halfway mark of the period and with about five minutes remaining in regulation to beat the Huskies 6-4.
“[We took] too many penalties,” head coach Chuck Rinaldo said. “Every time we gained momentum, we’d get a penalty and it would stop us in our tracks. We have to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. Credit to Aurora: they worked hard and didn’t go away. In order to finish big games, we need to stay out of the box.”
Saturday’s contest started out much better for the Huskies. They were the first to get on the board as Ricciardi picked up his fourth goal of the season just past the four minute mark of the first period. Aurora tied the game up before the period ended, but senior forward Joe Boris broke the tie 33 seconds into the second period with a power play goal.
Aurora fought back and tied the game at two with 6:38 left in the middle frame. 47 seconds after, Rucinski scored to put NIU back on top.
With 8:04 to go in regulation, Aurora finished on a penalty shot to tie the game up at three, which sent the game into overtime. The extra five minute frame wasn’t enough to decide a winner. The game went into a shootout, where Boris scored the game winning goal for NIU and junior goaltender Alex Hare made a big save in the third round to seal the 4-3 victory for the Huskies.
“We played a much more consistent game on Saturday,” Rinaldo said. “We had a much bigger jump in our step as well. We controlled the tempo on Saturday. Unfortunately, we had some trouble finding the back of the net where we could’ve finished the game earlier. We worked hard and stuck to the game plan and we were able to finish them off.”
Despite the fact that NIU and Aurora had no previous history, the games against the other Fox Valley Ice Arena tenant were very chippy.
“We expected things to be a little chippy, partially because we share the same facility,” Rinaldo said. “I would say, in my opinion, it was one of Aurora’s biggest weekends for them. They’ve been trying to prove themselves and put themselves on the map all year. To be able to match-up and compete with us was a big deal for them and we wouldn’t back down either. It caused some tense moments.”
The Huskies have now arrived at the final regular season games of the year. They will be home against DePaul University on Friday at 7 pm. On Saturday, the Huskies will take on the Blue Demons at MB Financial Park in Rosemont in an outdoor game at 4 pm.
“We have to stick to our game plan,” Rinaldo said. “DePaul likes to run and gun and create a lot of chaos with a lot of offense. We have to play the lanes, play smart, take their space away and convert on our opportunities. They like to get out to a lead quickly and wear us down and we have to get out to a lead and not let that happen again [like last year].”