By Kim Wrona
12/9/16 – DeKalb, IL | The DII Huskies played three games in three days from December 1 to December 3 and dropped all three contests.
NIU’s first game was at home against Aurora University on December 1. The Spartans got on the scoreboard first in the tilt with a goal from the left circle that beat junior goaltender Nick Bove high glove side 5:19 into the first period.
The Huskies evened up the score 1:28 later with senior defenseman Ron Coletta’s fourth goal of the season; his shot from the point was deflected in by an opposing stick.
The Spartans regained the lead with 3:50 left in the opening frame and took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
AU scored three times throughout the second period to take a 5-1 lead over the Huskies. Junior forward Mike Wojtkiewicz netted his 11th goal of the season with 19.6 seconds to go in the middle frame to cut the NIU deficit to three goals.
The Spartans scored 3:07 into the third period to make it 6-2 in AU’s favor. AU’s sixth goal ended Bove’s night and senior goaltender JoJo Durrbeck relieved him for the rest of the game; Bove made 39 saves on 45 shots on goal while he manned the crease.
AU netted a power play goal at 6:43 and then added another marker at 16:08 with a back door tip-in to give the visitors an 8-2 lead. Freshman forward Nick Gulli scored his 13th goal of the season as he put the puck home from out in front during a power play with 2:06 left in regulation. But the Huskies didn’t get any closer to the AU lead as they dropped the game by a score of 8-3.
Durrbeck made 25 saves on 27 shots in the third period. AU outshot NIU by a 72-20 margin. The Huskies went 1-3 on the power play while the Spartans went 1-4 on their man advantages.
On December 2, the Huskies traveled down to Champaign to take on the University of Illinois’ DI team. Friday’s game featured the Huskies getting out to a quick start as senior forward Max Finley scored 1:22 into the first period.
The Huskies took their 1-0 lead into the second period, but the Illini scored 4:49 into the middle frame to tie the game up at one.
At 8:13 of the sandwich stanza, senior forward Cody Billeck netted his fourth goal of the season as he put home a loose puck from the crease after an initial shot from junior forward Eric Svejda to give NIU a 2-1 lead.
The Huskies extended their lead just over four minutes later as senior forward Tyler Hilton scored his tenth goal of the season.
U of I scored twice during the second half of the middle frame to tie the game up at three. The Illini then took a 4-3 lead 2:49 in to the third period.
Gulli tied the game up at the 4:46 mark with his 14th goal of the season, but the Illini were able to edge out the Huskies for the victory as the home squad scored with 1:54 left in regulation to go up by a score of 5-4.
Durrbeck made 45 saves on 50 shots in the contest. U of I outshot NIU by a 50-25 margin. The Huskies weren’t able to convert on their lone power play, but they didn’t give the Illini any chance to do damage on the man advantage as the Huskies played a penalty-free game.
“For not having a full team, I feel like everybody stepped up and played a bigger role than they’re really responsible for,” Billeck said. “I think it showed a lot of character this weekend from a lot of different guys—from everyone.”
The Illini controlled the scoreboard for most of Saturday’s game. The home squad scored the first three goals on the tilt within the first 12 and a half minutes of the game. Gulli was able to get NIU on the board at 12:54 with his 15th goal of the season.
U of I scored once more before the first period concluded and then at 3:49 of the second period to take a 5-1 lead over the Huskies.
Hilton netted his 11th goal of the season at 14:24 of the second period to cut the NIU deficit to three goals. Gulli then added his second goal of the game and 16th goal of the season during a power play to bring the Huskies within two markers at 17:19.
The Illini regained their three goal lead with a tally with 1:17 left in the period to make the score 6-3.
During the third period, the Illini scored three times to extend their lead to 9-3. With 1:41 remaining in regulation, Gulli completed his hat trick with a shorthanded goal for his 17th goal of the season to cut the NIU deficit to five goals, but U of I took the 9-4 victory when all was said and done.
Durrbeck made 65 saves on 74 shots on goal in the contest. U of I outshot NIU by a 74-19 margin. The Huskies went 1-2 on the power play while the Illini scored on one of their five man advantages. The Huskies now have an 8-14-0-0-0 record on the 2016-17 campaign.
“Having a Thursday that game late, especially when you have to travel the next day, is tiring, even if you’re playing at 7 o’clock at night [on Friday],” Billeck said. “Three games back-to-back when you’re playing a DI team is very exhausting as well. During that Saturday game, […] a lot of people were just tired. It’s a long weekend.”
The DII Huskies will close out the 2016 portion of the 2016-17 season with two home games against Robert Morris University Maroon.
“We know that we can skate with them,” Billeck said. “We just have to put more pucks in the net because that was really the main issue [for us in the RMU Showcase]. So, this weekend we need to [generate] more shots.”
The Huskies and the Eagles will play at 7:30 p.m. on December 9 and at 5:30 p.m. on December 10 at Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee.