By Kim Wrona
1/25/17 – DeKalb, IL | The DII Huskies hosted Saint Louis University on January 20 and 21 at Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee and NIU picked up its first victory in 11 games during Saturday’s match-up.
The Billikens netted the opening goal during Friday’s contest. The visitors took a 1-0 lead with 4:39 remaining in the first period on a second chance opportunity.
The Huskies tied the game up at one with 39.8 seconds remaining in the second period as senior defenseman-turned-forward Bryan Peterson scored a shorthanded goal for his third marker of the season.
SLU scored twice in 17 seconds with 6:38 remaining in the third period to take a 3-1 lead over the Huskies. NIU took its timeout after the third goal and that was what the team needed to regroup.
43 seconds later, senior forward Tyler Hilton scored his 13th goal of the season to bring NIU within a goal. Nearly two minutes later, Hilton tied the game up with his 14th marker of the year by banking the puck into the back of the net off of the SLU goalie’s back.
The game went into overtime, but a penalty during the extra frame was costly for NIU as the Billikens scored during the man advantage to take the game by a score of 4-3.
Senior goaltender JoJo Durrbeck made 49 saves on 53 shots on goal in the contest. SLU outshot NIU by a 53-31 margin. The Huskies failed to convert on any of their five power plays while the Billikens went 1-4 on the man advantage.
The Huskies looked for redemption on Saturday and started out on the right foot as they scored the first marker of the game. NIU had a 3-on-1 rush going into the offensive zone. Junior forward Patrick Wrobel gave the puck to senior forward Ryan Saunders, who then dished the puck to sophomore forward Jordan Niedziela and Niedziela put the puck home for his first goal of the season.
The Billikens tied the game up in the second period as they capitalized off of an odd man rush with a shot from the slot that went blocker side on Durrbeck.
With 1:02 left in the middle frame, the Huskies regained the lead as forward Jon Pounds shoveled a backhander home from right out in front of the net for his first goal of the season.
The Huskies added to their lead in the third period as junior forward Eric Svejda deflected in a shot from the point for his sixth goal of the season at the 5:30 mark of the frame.
The Billikens continued to fight back as they cut the NIU lead to 3-2 with 11:26 remaining in regulation. In the waning minutes of the period, SLU pulled its goalie for the extra attacker, but the Huskies capitalized.
Niedziela netted an empty net goal for his second of the game and the season to give NIU a 4-2 victory over the Billikens. The win was the Huskies’ first since November 19 against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Durrbeck made 42 saves on 44 shots in the contest. SLU outshot NIU by a 44-41 margin. Both teams went 0-3 on the man advantage. The Huskies’ record is now 9-20-0-1-0.
“We played a full 60 minutes for the first time all season,” head coach Nick Madonia said. “There was no let down. As soon as they scored, we didn’t give up a second one, we came right back at them. This was one of the better weekends of goaltending that we’ve seen all season, so that’s also a plus.”
“The best aspect [of Saturday’s game] I would say was probably the defensive zone,” Pounds said. “We didn’t really give up any odd man breaks. […] When we played them [on Friday], they had a little bit more. I think we controlled the pace of play for most of the game. I think it more or less started in the defensive zone and worked its way out.”
“Everybody was ready to go tonight,” Peterson said about Saturday’s game. “We just wanted to bounce back and end the weekend with some points. This was big for playoff standings and all. Everybody just did their jobs from top to bottom. JoJo had a good weekend; he played crazy. The new guys are starting to step in like, Jordan, he had two goals tonight. So, we’re just starting to form together.”
The defense’s play was a huge help for Durrbeck in net over the weekend.
“They let me see shots and then they block the rest of the shots that I can’t see,” Durrbeck said. “It’s easier [to make saves] when you can see shots and then the offense can gain momentum by holding the play in the offensive zone.”
Speaking of defense, the Huskies made a big change to a few position players to spark the offense. Peterson, a natural defenseman, was moved to forward and Brandon Niedziela, a natural forward, was moved to the back end. Peterson posted three points over the course of the weekend while Niedziela looked solid and steady while manning the blue line.
“Last weekend in McKendree, we were a little short defensively,” Madonia said. “We tried Neds back on the point. He played really well. Petey is a relentless forechecker, so as soon as we were comfortable enough with Neds, we decided to move Petey up. It gives that first line a little bit different of a look.”
“It makes [my play] more carefree because I can have fun and kind of free range it,” Peterson said about the switch. “If they don’t like me up there, they just put me back to what I already like doing. So, I just went into it without worries: help everybody get some goals and if they don’t like me, go back to stopping them.”
“We take the most defensive defenseman that blocks the most shots, we throw him up at forward and does he ever produce offensively,” Durrbeck said about Peterson. “[He’ll just do] whatever it takes to get the team the ‘W’. He just plays his heart out at whatever end of the ice he plays at.”
The Huskies are going to look to utilize not only their new-found position players, but their momentum from their win as well to propel them into their next set of games against Lindenwood University.
“We had a rough start coming back from break, so it was nice just to get a win,” Pounds said. “Honestly, there is so much momentum in the game of hockey. […] You see a lot of streaks in hockey: you play ten good games in a row then you play six bad games in a row. I think it’s good that the boys got a win today. That way they can get the ball rolling next weekend and then hopefully all the way into playoffs.”
Tweaks still need to be made to the Huskies’ overall team game before they head into their next games.
“The defensive zone always needs to be cleaned up,” Madonia said. “Lindenwood is going to be a really good team, one of the better teams we see this season. So, we look forward to seeing how we do next week.”
“Our D-zone still [needs work],” Peterson said. “We gave up a lot of rebounds and we keep missing the puck when it bounces off of Jo. We need to clean that up a little bit and make sure we get it out.”
The Huskies and Lindenwood will face-off at 7:30 p.m. on January 27 and at 5:30 p.m. on January 28 at Leafs Ice Centre.