D2 Splits Season Opening Series with MSU

By Kim Wrona

9/23/13—DeKalb, IL  The Huskies found themselves in Missouri to open up the 2013-14 season against the Missouri State Ice Bears on Friday and Saturday night. While the outcome of the opener wasn’t what they wanted—a 3-2 loss—they bounced back on Saturday evening with a thrilling 3-2 shootout win.

“Although we only came out with a split of the weekend series, it was actually a big accomplishment to hand MSU a loss on their home ice,” head coach Chuck Rinaldo said. “It's one of the toughest places for visiting teams to play and we showed great determination and focus all weekend which is the main reason we were able to grab a win on Saturday.”

During the first period of Friday night’s contest freshman forward Tyler Sukel tallied his first collegiate goal to get the Huskies on the board, but they trailed 2-1 after the opening frame. The Huskies had a chance to close the deficit to one in the second period when junior forward and alternate captain Justin Rucinski was awarded a penalty shot, but MSU sophomore goaltender Justin Davis made the save. Senior forward and captain Nick Remley did bring the Huskies to within a goal late in the second, but that was as close as the Huskies would get to MSU’s lead for the rest of the contest.

“The main negative of the weekend was when we lost our discipline in the first period on Friday and [we] ended up taking a few bad penalties,” Rinaldo said.  “If we didn’t have that little hiccup on Friday, I'm convinced we would have won that game, too.”

The Huskies came out with much more jump on Saturday night. Senior forward Rob Bock forced MSU junior netminder Steve Lombardo to make a big save on a breakaway chance within the first few minutes of the opening period. Despite MSU taking a 1-0 lead with 11:20 left in the second period, the Huskies battled back to tie the game as Bock took a pass from senior forward Joe Boris and tallied his first goal of the young season. With 2:01 left in the middle frame, the Huskies converted on the power play with sophomore defenseman Troy Heurlin’s shot from the point to give them their first lead of the weekend.  MSU tied the game back up at two with a shot from the right point, which ended up sending the game into overtime. A shootout ensued, where senior forward Nick Leon scored in the second round and Rucinski scored in the third round to give the Huskies the win.

The Huskies did a good job of killing off MSU power plays on Saturday night; the Ice Bears went 0-7 on the man advantage. While the Huskies tallied a key power play goal on Saturday, they only went 1-8 and weren’t able to convert on two 5-on-3 power plays in the first period.

“We need to start generating more traffic and chaos in front of the net on the power play,” Rinaldo said. “We have allowed the goalies to have a clear view of the shots from the perimeter. We just need to crash for rebounds and look for some tips and bounces.”

Junior goaltender Alex Hare played great in net for the Huskies in both contests this weekend and stopped 32 shots on Saturday night, along with a big save in the first round of the shootout that helped lead the Huskies to victory.

Now, the focus is on this weekend’s home opener at Fox Valley Ice Arena on Friday night at 8:30 pm against the University of Missouri in a MACHA conference game. The Huskies host Mizzou again on Saturday afternoon at 2pm.

“We are very excited to play in front of our home crowd this weekend,” Rinaldo said. “There's no place like home.”

Going up against the Tigers will be no easy task for NIU.

“In order to be successful against Mizzou, we will need to do all of the little things along the boards and win the races to loose pucks,” Rinaldo said. “We also need to stay consistent with our hard work and discipline. No dumb penalties and 100% effort on every shift is a recipe for success.”