By Kim Wrona
11/4/15 – DeKalb, IL | The DII Huskies hosted the University of St. Thomas on October 30 and 31 at Leafs Ice Centre where the teams split the weekend series.
The Huskies started Friday’s game off slow and were never able to recover throughout the course of the game. St. Thomas got out to a fast start as the visitors scored the first goal of the contest just over three minutes into the game.
Senior forward Nick Leon got the Huskies back on track momentarily as he tied the game up with just over one minute left in the first period. He then gave NIU a 2-1 lead near the eight minute mark of the second period.
St. Thomas tied the game up at two with just over three minutes to play in the middle frame and then took a 3-2 lead on a 2-on-1 rush with 7:37 left in the third period.
Senior forward Justin Rucinski was awarded a penalty shot with 3.9 seconds to go in regulation, but he wasn’t able to score, giving St. Thomas the victory.
Junior goaltender JoJo Durrbeck made 30 saves on 33 shots in the contest. The Huskies were able to outshoot the visitors 40-33 and both teams went 1-4 on the power play.
“Friday we didn’t have our best game of the year,” Durrbeck said. “They came out strong and we knew they were going to be a good team. But we didn’t match their intensity to start the game. It took us a little while to get into our game. … [In] the third, we continued our lackadaisical play and didn’t really up our tempo enough to really take the game away.”
“Friday wasn’t really a good overall team effort,” senior defenseman Max Finley said. “We came out slow. We made a bunch of mistakes. … We just couldn’t get any goals in. We played a poor three periods in that game and that’s why we lost. JoJo played a great game; we just couldn’t back him up.”
“Friday’s loss was rough,” head coach Chuck Rinaldo said. “We couldn’t get our act together for the most part. We just didn’t have our systems in place. Not doing the little things [like] winning the battles on the boards and making the easy pass made our lives very difficult. Their goalie played well, credit to their goalie, but we didn’t do ourselves any favors.”
The first period on Saturday afternoon was a scoreless affair, despite NIU having a two-man advantage near the middle of the frame.
St. Thomas scored the first goal of the tilt halfway through the second period, but NIU quickly tied the game up with a power play tally from Rucinski.
Leon gave NIU a 2-1 lead with a shorthanded marker at 8:34 of the third period. Sophomore forward Eric Svejda gave NIU its first two goal lead of the weekend just over one minute later.
St. Thomas fought back to tie the game up at three with two goals that were tallied 1:09 apart.
The power play came up big for NIU again with four minutes left in regulation. Freshman forward Erik Gavert scored the go-ahead goal during a man advantage. Rucinski then added an empty net goal with 41 seconds left to make the final score 5-3 in the Huskies’ favor.
Sophomore goaltender Jake Leon made 30 saves on 33 shots in the contest. NIU outshot St. Thomas 47-33 during the game. The Huskies went 3-6 on the power play and killed off six of seven St. Thomas man advantages.
“Saturday was a little bit better, but not exactly where we wanted to be going into this week against SIUE,” Finley said. “But we played a solid third period. We played like we should play in the third period. The team that we want to be going into the rest of the year and into the playoffs is the team that showed up in the third period and that’s why we won the game on Saturday.”
“We played one good period: the third period.” Rinaldo said. “However, we’re happy to take the win. We played with much better discipline on Saturday.”
The next time the Huskies step on the ice for game action will be in a road arena. The team will travel down to East Alton, Illinois to take on Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.
“We’re going to have to get together as a team and play as a team,” Finley said. “It’s going to take a team effort. We’re going to need to get some more production from everybody else other than our top line and power play unit. We have to work hard in practice this week, get back to the game plan that we know can help us win and take that into SIUE.”
“We need to do those little things that we didn’t do last weekend,” Rinaldo said. “We need to make sure we don’t get caught up in a run-and-gun game. SIUE will win games 8-7, 10-9 with no concerns. … We just have to be strong in our D zone and strong on our backcheck.”
“I think we just have to find the fun in [the bus ride down to SIUE],” Durrbeck said. “Both of our teams are going down there to play their two teams. I think it will be fun to go down as an entire organization. … [Hopefully we’ll] start off with a big win for our team and hopefully DIII can do the same.”
The DII Huskies and SIUE will face-off at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 6 and at 3 p.m. on Saturday, November 7 at East Alton Ice Arena.