By Kim Wrona
9/20/16 – DeKalb, IL | The DII Huskies dropped their 2016-17 season opening contests against Lewis University on September 16 and 17 at Canlan Ice Sports in Romeoville.
Friday’s game featured the home team getting on the board first as the Flyers sent a puck by junior goaltender Jake Leon with 5:35 left in the first period.
The Huskies failed to convert on five power plays in the second period while the Flyers converted on one of theirs to go up 2-0 with 4:40 left in the frame. The shot went five-hole on Leon as a mass of humanity gathered in front of the NIU crease.
The Huskies got on the board with 3:23 left in the sandwich stanza as junior forward Mike Wojtkiewicz tallied his first goal in an NIU sweater to cut Lewis’ lead in half.
Lewis’ special teams came up big again for the home squad in the third period. The Flyers killed off 1:46 of NIU power play time to begin the period and then the Flyers’ power play unit tallied with 12:15 to play in regulation to make it 3-1.
The Flyers added one more goal before the game was over with 2:39 to go with a shot from the right circle that went high glove side on Leon to make the final 4-1 Lewis.
The Huskies outshot the Flyers by a margin of 26-24. The NIU power play went 0-8 while the Flyers’ went 2-4 on the man advantage. Leon made 20 saves on 24 shots in the contest.
“I don’t know that we set the puck up in the zone within 30 seconds of getting a power play at all,” head coach Nick Madonia said after Friday’s game. “We need to clean our passing up [on the power play]. [On the] penalty kill, we were severely outworked for the most part.”
The Huskies got out to a better start on Saturday as they brought a bigger physical presence to the table to start the game. NIU also got on the board first with 9:45 to go in the opening frame with a tally from junior forward Pat Wrobel.
With 3:01 to go in the first, the Huskies had a good chance to extend their lead as junior forward Eric Svejda found himself all alone in front of the Flyers’ crease, but his one timer was shut down by the Lewis netminder.
The Huskies had another chance to tack on to their lead as Wojtkiewicz had a breakaway early in the second period, but the puck jumped on him at the last second.
With 7:04 left in the middle stanza, Lewis tied the game up at one as the Flyers redirected a puck from the slot past junior goaltender Nick Bove. About three minutes later, the Flyers took their first lead of the game with a shot from the slot; Bove was well-screened by bodies on the play.
The Huskies fought back in the third period as freshman forward Nick Gulli netted a power play marker to tie the game at two with just under eight minutes to play in regulation.
The Flyers took back the lead with 2:09 left in regulation as they whacked a bouncing puck past Bove to make it 3-2. The home team held on for the rest of the game to take the victory and the sweep of the weekend over the Huskies.
NIU outshot Lewis by a margin of 40-35. The NIU power play went 1-4 and the penalty kill shutdown all three of Lewis’ man advantages. Bove made 32 saves on 35 shots in the tilt.
“We worked our butts off all game,” Madonia said. “We didn’t let up at all. We had 20 chances that we just couldn’t get a bounce [on in our favor]. I’m actually pretty happy with the way we played. We could have done without a penalty or two there, but all-in-all, not too bad.”
“I think we worked much harder than [Friday],” Wrobel said. “I think we had better passing and more shots on net. Our breakout was much more effective. The power play also had chances; we just couldn’t capitalize on our opportunities. “
“I think everyone got the first game jitters out of the way,” senior defenseman Ron Coletta said about the difference between Friday and Saturday’s games. “Everyone seemed to play a little nervous [on Friday] […] but today we brought it all back together and realized we had to come play hockey.”
The tone of Saturday’s game was much different than Friday’s contest.
“[On Friday,] we were barely hitting,” Wrobel said. “Both teams weren’t hitting. Today, everyone was coming out flying with bodies so I think that definitely changed the tempo of the game and increased the level of play.”
While special teams improved overall on Saturday, the Huskies still aren’t satisfied with their results on the man advantage.
“It was definitely better than [Friday], but it can always be better,” Madonia said. “[We don’t have any] power play goals still. We need to work on that.”
“We were a little happier, but in all honesty, unless we’re scoring a goal on every single power play, it’s not up to our expectations, so we can obviously improve,” Coletta said.
Next up for the Huskies is their 2016-17 home opener against rival Illinois State University.
“Home ice will be tremendous,” Coletta said. “It’s going to be really good to play in front of our fans again.”
“I think we have to convert on plays and catch some of those [missed] passes,” Wrobel said. “We just have to get the puck on the net and crash more and get those dirty goals.”
The Huskies will host ISU in MACHA Conference games at 7:30 p.m. on September 23 and at 5:30 p.m. on September 24 at Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee.