DII Huskies fall short of nationals

By Kim Wrona

3/9/15 – DeKalb, IL  |  The Huskies kicked off the weekend of February 28 by taking on Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in the first round of ACHA regionals  at West Meadows Ice Arena in Rolling Meadows. After picking up a 6-4 victory, the Huskies faced Michigan State University for a chance to go to nationals.

Senior forward Mark Greenberg started Saturday’s game off on the right foot for NIU as he scored at the 3:25 mark of the first period to put the Huskies up 1-0.  SIUe was able to tie the game up at one with just over five minutes left in the opening frame.

The Huskies struck again only 3:50 into the middle frame.  Senior defenseman Brian Pounds was able to tally while on the power play to put NIU up 2-1.  Less than two minutes later, SIUe knotted the game up at two.

With just over seven minutes left in the period, junior forward Brandon Niedziela restored the Huskies’ lead to make it 3-2.  SIUe continued to fight back and tied the game at three with a power play goal with 1:29 left in the period.

The Huskies answered with a power play goal of their own at 8:05 of the third period.  Junior forward Nick Leon scored to make it 4-3 NIU.  SIUe managed to tally once more to tie the game up at four during four-on-four play just past the halfway mark of the final frame.

The Huskies were finally able to pull away from the Cougars with 6:45 left in regulation as freshman forward Eric Svejda scored to put NIU up 5-4.  Senior forward Joe Serpico then tacked on an empty net goal with 45 seconds remaining in the game to give the Huskies the 6-4 victory.  Senior goaltender Alex Hare made 46 saves on 50 shots in the contest.

“I think we were a little rusty on Saturday coming off an extended break between playoffs and regionals,” head coach Chuck Rinaldo said.  “However we pulled it together and battled to the end.  The guys stuck to the game plan and stayed focused on executing the systems and it paid off for us.”

The Huskies then faced MSU on March 1 for a shot at going to nationals.

At 13:28 of the first period, junior defenseman Troy Heurlin opened up the scoring on the afternoon to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead.

NIU held the lead until the 10:22 mark of the second period when MSU tied the game.  The Spartans then scored once more before the period was over and at 14:38 of the third period to take a 3-1 lead over the Huskies.

Senior forward Justin Rucinski scored while on the power play with 1:12 left in regulation to bring the Huskies within a goal.  But MSU was able to tally with 34 seconds left in the game to take the 4-2 victory, ending the Huskies’ chances at going to nationals.  Hare made 37 saves on 41 shots in the tilt.

“Michigan State is a very good team and we knew we were going to have our hands full,” Rinaldo said.  “There was a lot of nervous excitement on the bench and the guys were extremely focused on getting the job done.  It felt good to strike first and get that one goal lead, but we knew they would keep coming at us.  We battled hard and gave it our best effort.  Although we fell short, I think the guys were very proud of the way they played and also impressed with what they had accomplished this year.”

The Huskies finished the 2014-15 season with a record of 26-8-2-2-0.

“The season was a huge success,” Rinaldo said.  “We were right on track with all of the goals that the team set this year and only fell short on a few of our tasks.  I think this season helped everyone realize that we are a team that should be competing for a bid to nationals ever year.”

The Huskies are looking to improve for next season by improving on what they accomplished this season.

“We have a lot of players returning next season and I think the expectations are that we take another step forward and win the MACHA and earn a trip to nationals,” Rinaldo said.  “We have the right guys in the locker room and plenty of talent on the ice to keep building on the success from this season.  I’m very excited to see what the future holds for us.”