By Kim Wrona
9/26/16 – DeKalb, IL | The DII Huskies split their first home games of the 2016-17 season with Illinois State University on September 23 and 24 at Leafs Ice Centre.
Friday’s contest went the visitors’ way while the Huskies picked up their first victory of the year on Saturday.
Despite dropping Friday’s game, the Huskies got on the board first with a late first period shot by senior defenseman Ron Coletta for his first goal of the season.
ISU took charge in the second period as they scored three times in the frame. The Redbirds’ first marker was a shot from the point during a power play just before the four minute mark of the frame. Junior goaltender Nick Bove was screened on the play.
ISU added its second goal with 2:43 left in the period off of a 2-on-1 rush. The visitors’ third goal was a result of a deflection with 10.3 seconds left in the frame.
The Redbirds made it 4-1 just over five minutes into the third period. But the Huskies charged back.
Just over a minute later, senior forward Max Finley scored on a breakaway to cut the Huskies’ deficit to two with his first goal of the season.
With 9:38 left in regulation, junior forward Mike Wojtkiewicz netted his second goal of the season with a shot from the left circle to cut ISU’s lead to 4-3.
The Redbirds took back momentum late in the period as they netted another power play goal. The ISU player grabbed the tiniest of rebounds off of an initial save and put the puck home five-hole on Bove. The teams were involved in a scrum after the goal, which led to an NIU power play.
During the power play, Bove was pulled for the extra attacker. The Huskies took advantage of their opportunity and Coletta bombed a shot from the right point into the back of the net with 1:16 to play to cut the Huskies’ deficit to one once again.
The Huskies continued to push for the equalizer with Bove pulled for the extra attacker, but came up just short as they fell by a score of 5-4 to ISU.
The Huskies outshot the Redbirds by a margin of 38-26. Bove made 21 saves on 26 shots in the contest. NIU went 1-6 on the power play while ISU went 2-4 on the man advantage.
Saturday’s tilt started similarly to Friday’s as the Huskies got on the board first with a late first period tally.
With 58 seconds remaining in the opening frame, senior forward Cody Billeck sent a dazzling pass over to sophomore forward Holden Carkner who put it home to give the Huskies the lead with his first goal of the season.
The Huskies stepped on the gas in the second period as they were able to extend their lead with two markers.
Sophomore defenseman Stefan Cefali sent a shot from the right point into the back of the net with his first goal of the season just past the four minute mark of the middle frame to make it 2-0 NIU.
Just past the halfway point of the period, senior forward Ryan Saunders deflected in a shot from senior forward Jake Jauch for his first goal of the year and to give the Huskies a three goal lead.
“We worked hard and Jauch was going into the corner,” Saunders said about his marker. “I just called for his name and went for the tip and it went in.”
With 10:15 remaining in the third period, freshman forward Nick Gulli sent a puck five-hole on the ISU netminder for his second goal of the season and to make it 4-0 NIU.
The Redbirds netted a goal with 1.9 seconds remaining in regulation to make it 4-1 and to ruin senior goaltender JoJo Durrbeck’s bid at a shutout, but the Huskies were able to hang on for their first victory of the season.
The Huskies outshot the Redbirds by a 54-44 margin. Durrbeck made 43 saves on 44 shots in the contest. NIU went 0-4 on the power play, but the Huskies killed off all seven ISU man advantages in the game.
“We knew it was coming soon, we just were hoping we were going to get it done [on Saturday] and we played a great game,” head coach Nick Madonia said about picking up the first victory of the season. “But it’s nice to get some momentum going into Northern Michigan [next weekend].”
“It feels pretty good,” Durrbeck said about the team’s first win. “You always want to do it on the first weekend, but here at home, it’s pretty nice. Starting out 1-3 isn’t what you want to do, but we have this one under our belts and hopefully we’ll get a few more here coming up soon.”
The penalty kill was one of the keys to the Huskies’ success on Saturday as they shut down all seven Redbirds power plays.
“Our penalty kill definitely [improved from Friday to Saturday],” Madonia said. “[Friday] we gave up two power play goals. Today, we obviously went 7-7 so that’s a big thing. Special teams in this league are going to make or break teams, so we need to be good at all times.”
“We spent a lot of time on special teams this week, so it was pretty cool seeing how our power play and penalty kill worked really well this weekend,” Durrbeck said. “We took some bad penalties, but our PK stood tall and we had some great kills and gained momentum our way instead of the other team’s way.”
“It takes a lot of confidence and hard work out there,” Saunders, one of the team’s penalty killers, said about the PK. “I got to give it out to my partners, especially because–day in and day out–we just work hard and want to kill every single penalty kill that we got.”
The second period in Saturday’s game was also a major part of the team’s success in their first victory of the year.
“Our second period [improved from Friday to Saturday],” Durrbeck said. “They scored three [on Friday] in the second period and that put us back a little bit. We knew we had to come in and have a strong second period [on Saturday] because we only had a 1-0 lead. So, that second period is pretty key, [since it resulted in] coming into the third with a pretty good lead on our hands.”
The Huskies will travel up north to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to take on Northern Michigan University next weekend.
“Next week we have to go in knowing they’re going to be a good team,” Saunders said. “We have to go in and play our full 60 minute [game] just like [Saturday].”
“We pretty much have to mimic what we did [on Saturday],” Durrbeck said. “We need to […] take less penalties [and] just play hard every minute of every period.”
The Huskies and the Wildcats will face-off at 7 p.m. on September 30 and at 4 p.m. on October 1 at Berry Events Center in Marquette, MI.