By Kim Wrona
2/13/15 – DeKalb, IL | The DII Huskies closed out the 2014-15 regular season on February 6 and 7 by hosting the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire at Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva.
Friday’s first period featured a combined six goals from both teams. Luckily for the Huskies, four of the tallies came off of NIU sticks to give them a 4-2 lead after 20 minutes. Senior forwards Mark Greenberg, Justin Rucinski and Joe Serpico and junior forward John Luciana all lit the lamp for the Huskies.
The second period was a scoreless affair, but the end of the third period caused the Huskies to sweat a bit. With 1:12 left in regulation, UWEC scored to cut the visitors’ deficit to one to make it 4-3.
Despite the closeness of the final minute, the Huskies were able to hang on for the victory; senior goaltender Alex Hare made 58 saves in the win.
“We played really good on Friday,” junior forward Brandon Niedziela said. “I think the first and second period we didn’t play as good as we wanted to, but we still had the lead. In the third, we came back and kind of shut it down, so I think everyone was happy with Friday.”
“We came out to a fast start and put four goals in on Wisconsin,” senior defenseman Kevin Schwartz said. “After that, we just locked down the defense until the end of the game and held on for a 4-3 victory.”
“I think it was a little more hard-fought than we expected it to be,” senior defenseman Brian Pounds said. “But it was good and we ended up grinding the win out. It was solid overall. It wasn’t great in terms of performance, but we got the job done.”
“Friday’s game was good,” coach Nick Madonia said. “We did what we wanted to do: we jumped out to an early lead. We kind of let them fight their way back, but we maintained composure and took care of business and finished the game out strong.”
Saturday was a completely different story for the Huskies.
UWEC got out to a three goal lead in the first period before NIU could register a marker on the board. Greenberg was able to tally while out in front of the UWEC crease with 1:12 left in the opening period, but UWEC answered with a goal just 3:37 into the middle frame to take away any momentum the Huskies had built up.
Serpico scored to make it 4-2 about three minutes later, but UWEC scored six more times before the end of the game to take the victory by a score of 10-2.
“We lost our composure early,” Madonia said. “I think it’s safe to say we lost it before the game started. Guys were more worried about doing things non-hockey related during the game than actually playing and winning. But games like that happen, unfortunately. I think that’s the first game where they really lost it themselves rather than being beaten by a team. So as long as they can recover and get their heads back on straight, they’ll be fine.”
“It was a bit of a mess,” Niedziela said. “There were a lot of bad penalties. You can’t blame it on the refs. … But I don’t think anyone was happy, even the fans, with Saturday. But that won’t happen again. [We’re] definitely going to come back from that.”
The only highlight of the night for the Huskies was the fact that it was senior night. Those celebrating their last regular season game in an NIU uniform were Greenberg, Hare, Pounds and Schwartz.
“Senior night was actually awesome,” Pounds said. “It was a lot of fun. Anthony Ricciardi, our announcer, did a funny job with some intros. But I don’t think a lot of people showed up ready to play that game. I think people either weren’t in the mood to play or weren’t ready to play or whatever the reason was, we just weren’t ready and weren’t there. But senior night was fun, regardless. I was glad to share that moment.”
“Senior night was a great night,” Schwartz said. “As a senior, it makes you feel really special. We had a lot of fans there to support us. [We had] some funny and entertaining introductions. It’s great to go out there and start with the other seniors. Once again, we had a great start to that game. Unfortunately, we couldn’t hold onto that for three periods.”
With the regular season in the books, the Huskies now turn their attention to the MACHA conference playoffs. NIU has a bye in the first round, so the Huskies’ first game will come in the second round on February 14. The Huskies have a chance of playing Illinois State University, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville or the University of Iowa.
“We’ve done a good job against the higher seeds in the regular season,” Pounds said. “I think we turn on for those games a little more. So I think that’s what it comes down to is just getting in the right mindset for those big games. I think that comes naturally for us.”
“[We need to] not do what we did on Saturday,” Niedziela said with a laugh. “Just play like we’ve been playing all season. Just keep it up and if we just stick to what we know, and obviously it’s been working all season, I think we can go really far.”
“Saturday for the second round of conference playoffs, we just need to focus on the little things and keep working hard,” Schwartz said. “We have the talent and skill to push through and win the championship for conference. So if we just work hard and [be] disciplined, we can make it there.”
“That’s such a good team in that [NIU] locker room that when everyone comes ready to play and sticks to their roles, they can beat anybody they play against,” Madonia said. “It’s more of a mental thing with them and they need to make sure that they’re ready to play and all four lines are ready to roll and take care of business and they won’t have any trouble.”