By Kim Wrona
09/22/15 – DeKalb, IL | The DII Huskies kicked off the 2015-16 season with two road wins over Illinois State University on September 18 and 19.
The opening game of the season featured the Huskies getting on the board 5:20 into the first period. Senior forward Nick Leon tallied while on the power play to give NIU the early lead.
The Huskies struck twice more in the opening period with markers from sophmore forward Eric Svejda and freshman forward Erik Gavert. Sophmore goaltender Jake Leon made 15 saves in the opening frame.
ISU broke Jake Leon’s bid at a shutout just over two minutes into the second period, but the Huskies answered back with four unanswered goals throughout the rest of the game to give NIU a 7-1 victory to begin the season; Nick Leon, Svejda (twice more to complete the hat trick) and sophmore forward Patrick Wrobel got on the board for the Huskies. Jake Leon made 38 saves on 39 shots in the contest.
“I thought it was pretty standard for a first game,” Svejda said. “We were getting all of our nerves out. All of the rookies were starting to get to know each other; the new lines were starting to gel. … It was a good start to the season.”
“It was a good start, high energy,” head coach Chuck Rinaldo said. “Our rookies stepped up quickly, which was a nice surprise for us. … Overall, we showed great offensive ability and our goalies stepped up and some of our new ‘D’ showed a lot of confidence. We need to work on a little bit more discipline. We got caught up in the rivalry [with ISU] with penalties, but for first game of the year, we kind of noticed what we have to work on.”
Saturday’s tilt started with a scoreless first period, but the Huskies got on the board in the second period. Gavert started the scoring just before the halfway point of the middle frame with his second goal on the weekend. Freshman forward David Madrigal tallied his first goal of his collegiate career with 3:20 remaining in the frame.
The Huskies continued to score in the third period as Nick Leon racked up a hat trick while Svejda and senior forward Anthony Ricciardi added markers to make it 7-0. ISU scored with 2:08 left in the final frame, breaking junior goaltender JoJo Durrbeck’s attempt at a shutout in his first start with the DII team. The Warrenville, IL native made 28 saves on 29 shots in the game.
“Saturday we were just trying to keep momentum [from Friday] going into the next game,” Durrbeck said. “For me personally, I just wanted to do the same thing Leon did [in net]: control the game, control the tempo, get the whistles, control rebounds and try and make it easier on the defensemen.”
“Saturday’s game was more of the same [as Friday],” Nick Leon said. “It was good to see that [our performance] wasn’t a fluke and that’s really what our team is made up of. It’s a [good] building block moving forward.”
“Saturday’s game was pretty much a continuation from Friday,” Rinaldo said. “[We had] a little bit better discipline overall. … Our power play has already started to click, which is a big contrast from last year where we hit a lot of dry spells, not saying we won’t hit some down the road. But, it’s just nice to come out of the gates quick. JoJo did a phenomenal job. Leon did a phenomenal job as well. I think it was crucial for JoJo, for all of our goalies to get an early game under their belts and figure out how they feel, gain some confidence and I think that worked for both of our guys this weekend. We’ll get [sophmore goaltender Nick] Bove in the net this coming weekend, too.”
All of the rookies played well throughout the weekend in their first set of games, according to Rinaldo.
“They all fit in nicely to our scheme,” he said. “I think they have good talent with great potential as well. I think the sky is the limit for those guys. There’s still a learning curve, there’s till stuff they’re going to have to figure out, but we all do. They showed that they fit in and they’re going to help the team.”
The Huskies will be on home ice for the first time during the 2015-16 season this weekend. At 7:30 p.m. on Friday, September 25 and at 3 p.m. on Saturday, September 26, NIU will be hosting the University of Illinois at Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee for two MACHA Conference games.
“We’ll have a pretty good fan base there on Friday, so I think we need to use the crowd to our advantage, and … come out with a bang and just kind of set the tempo and come out with a purpose,” Durrbeck said.
“We need to clean up some of our execution in our ‘D’ zone and obviously stay out of the box,” Rinaldo said. “That’s when we give teams opportunities to get back into the game. Otherwise, it’s already just fine tuning some of the little stuff [for this weekend]. There’s still some chemistry that needs to be built with some of the lines.”
“I think U of I is going to bring as much speed as ISU brought to the table, but they’re definitely not going to be a team to take lightly,” Nick Leon said.