By Kim Wrona
10/22/15 – DeKalb, IL | The DII Huskies hosted the University of Missouri on October 16 and 17 and NIU won both games to sweep the weekend.
NIU’s Pink in the Rink weekend didn’t start off great for the Huskies as they found themselves in a 2-0 deficit after the first period on Friday night. But they battled back in the last two frames.
Senior forward and team captain Justin Rucinski led the way with a hat trick in the second period. Mizzou added a goal before Rucinski’s third goal, resulting in a 3-3 tie going into the last few minutes of the middle frame.
Senior forward Nick Leon scored once in the second period and then in the third period to give NIU a 5-3 lead. Mizzou cut the Huskies’ lead to one with about 90 seconds left in regulation, but sophomore forward Eric Svejda tallied for NIU to restore its two goal lead. The Huskies were then able to hang on for the 6-4 victory. Junior goaltender JoJo Durrbeck made 33 saves on 37 shots in the contest.
“Friday was fun,” Durrbeck said. “It was Pink in the Rink this weekend so we knew we were going to have a big crowd. We were all pretty stoked about it. … Unfortunately, we didn’t play Huskies hockey to start the game. We came out slow. After the first period, we were lucky to come out with just a two goal deficit. The second period we came out and played a little bit more of our game. We started to draw penalties and it turned into a lot of scoring. We got ourselves back in the game.”
“Friday we didn’t play as well as we wanted to from the beginning,” senior forward Nick Gorczyca said. “After the first period, we figured it out and we ended up scoring a bunch and pulling it together and winning so that was big.”
“I think we came out slow,” freshman forward Erik Gavert said. “We slowly got better as the game went on. We came together as a team and we picked up the pace and played how we should play every game.”
“The third period was our best period of the whole game,” Durrbeck said. “We really shut the door and came out with a good offensive plan and forechecked really well. I don’t think I saw too many shots early in the third. I think a lot of it was just Mizzou trying to fight back near the middle and the end of the period. Overall, I think as the game went on, we played better.”
“Overall, we got the job done,” head coach Chuck Rinaldo said. “It was a rocky start. We didn’t execute in our defensive zone. There were some struggles. But overall, we got better as the game went on, which was key. We ended up taking control by the end and showed that we were the deeper and better team. But it would have been nicer to have a quicker start and a better start.”
The Huskies scored early and often during Saturday afternoon’s tilt. They tallied the first seven goals on the game throughout the first and second periods. Leon (hat trick), Gavert, senior forward
Anthony Ricciardi, senior defenseman Troy Heurlin and junior forward Brandon Niedziela all got on the scoreboard for NIU.
Mizzou scored its first goal of the game with just over five minutes to go in the second period. Sophomore forward Matthew Gould scored early in the third period to restore the Huskies’ seven goal lead.
Mizzou added a goal less than one minute later to make the score 8-2, but the Huskies scored three more times before regulation was over to make the final score 11-2 in NIU’s favor. Freshman forward Holden Carkner and Gorczyca (twice) were the goal scorers for NIU.
Sophomore goaltender Nick Bove started the game for NIU and stopped all 12 shots that he faced. Bove played 30:02 of 60 minutes before sophomore goaltender Jake Leon took over in net. Leon stopped 14 of the 16 shots he faced.
“Saturday we came out flying, just like we should have,” Gorczyca said. “It was another big day for Pink in the Rink. We were coming off the win on Friday, so I’m sure that kind of helped us.”
“I think that we showed how we can actually play three full periods, how we should play every game and how our team comes together,” Gavert said. “Every line was scoring, which we really need for our team to have success versus other teams that are a lot better than [us.]”
“We learned from Friday,” Durrbeck said. “We played more of a complete game the next day. Obviously the score shows that. I think overall, throughout our line-up, guys were producing. All lines were out there and making some progress and getting momentum. When we got momentum, we kept it. We just shut the door on them that day.”
“Saturday’s game was much more in line with the expectations,” Rinaldo said. “We got some point production from almost all our lines, which was key. If we’re going to continue to be successful, we have to have secondary scoring. Hopefully we saw a glimmer of what we’re going to see in the future with some of the other guys scoring besides Rucinski, Leon and Svejda.”
The Huskies raised $4,810 for Susan G. Komen and breast cancer awareness with their Pink in the Rink weekend. NIU wore pink jerseys and socks during the games.
“You always look forward to games like these, big games, playing games for a purpose,” Durrbeck said. “I think outside of hockey, it was fun to just be a part of the cause for the weekend, playing for a cause for breast cancer awareness. … You have a good crowd out there, you’re playing for a reason out there. It was a nice atmosphere on and off the ice.”
“Playing for a cause, it definitely helps the importance of the game,” Gorczyca said. “We always get more fans for Pink in the Rink. The last two years, I think, our biggest games as far as people coming to the games has been Pink in the Rink so there’s always a heightened sense of urgency to do something good.”
“It’s great to play for something that’s more than just hockey,” Gavert said. “It’s all fun but there’s more to it since we can raise money for it. It’s great for our team and organization to give back to the community.”
“Every year it seems to get better and better,” Rinaldo said. “We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to do this. It’s a great cause. It touches home for a lot of people. I’m excited to do it next year and keep growing it. I think the guys really embrace it. It was a great atmosphere, especially on Friday night with the students being here as well. It was great to have Bove’s aunt come in [and drop the ceremonial first puck]. Obviously it’s very personal when we have someone in our NIU family battling breast cancer. To be able to contribute and do that for her was a great thing, too.”
The Huskies now will turn their on-ice attention to Lindenwood University for their next set of games.
“We need to play more of how we played on Saturday,” Durrbeck said. “We have to come out with a bang on Friday and really play how we did on Saturday on [this upcoming] Friday. [We have to] just play a complete weekend, 60 minutes both nights and take it one game at a time.”
“I think we’re going to have to iron out all of the small details in practice this week,” Gorczyca said. “We can’t come out flat this weekend like we did against Mizzou on Friday night. We have to figure it out right away so we don’t get killed by them.”
“I think we need to play like how we did on Saturday,” Gavert said. “All four lines need to be playing, rolling, scoring goals and have team chemistry and play how we know we can.”
“We have to play our best games yet this year in order to even compete with Lindenwood,” Rinaldo said. “They’re going to be one of the best teams we play all year. We have to be disciplined in our D zone and stay defensive minded. They’ll make us pay for our mistakes. But I think we have the talent to do it and I think we have the capability to do it.”
The Huskies will travel down to Wentzville, MO to take on Lindenwood. The first tilt is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday, October 23 and the second contest is set to begin at 4 p.m. on Saturday, October 24 at Wentzville Ice Arena.