By Kim Wrona
1/14/16 – DeKalb, IL | The DII Huskies opened up the spring semester of the 2015-16 season by hosting Northern Michigan University on January 8 and 9.
The first period at Leafs Ice Centre on Friday was a scoreless affair between the two teams, but the Huskies got on the board first in the contest. Senior forward Nick Leon scored at the 5:09 mark of the second period to put NIU up 1-0. Just over three minutes later, junior defenseman Jake Jauch sent a shot past the NMU netminder to put the Huskies up by two. The tally was Jauch’s first goal of the season.
Senior defenseman Troy Heurlin went coast-to-coast with 5:04 left in the middle frame to put the Huskies up 3-0. The marker was Heurlin’s ninth goal of the season.
NIU was then able to hang on throughout the remainder of the game to take the victory. Sophomore goaltender Jake Leon made 28 saves on 28 shots in the tilt. The Huskies outshot the Wildcats by a 49-28 margin. The Huskies failed to convert on their two power plays in the contest and killed off all four of the Wildcats’ man advantages.
“We knew we needed to start 2016 strong and we did just that,” senior forward Max Finley said. “We played a strong team game with lots of chances and very few mistakes. Jake played a great game in net.”
“It was definitely nice to start the second semester on the right foot,” head coach Chuck Rinaldo said. “We played a complete game on Friday, taking care of all the little details that need to be done to gain momentum and execute our systems at 100 per cent. I was very happy with our performance and I hope we can continue to build on this success for future weekends.”
The Huskies and the Wildcats traveled to Rosemont the next day to take part in an outdoor game at MB Financial Park. The Huskies got out to a quick start as Nick Leon scored 1:25 into the game to put NIU up 1-0.
Northern Michigan battled back just over one minute later to strike with a power play goal to tie the game. The back-and-forth scoring continued as Leon scored his second marker of the game to put NIU up 2-1; that tally was a power play goal. The Wildcats tied the game up at two five seconds later.
Freshman forward David Madrigal concluded the first period scoring at the 12:49 mark with a shorthanded goal to give the Huskies the lead back. The marker was Madrigal’s seventh of the season.
Freshman forward Erik Gavert scored the lone goal of the second period as he potted his eighth goal of the season at the 12:11 mark. Leon then completed his hat trick at 1:41 of the third period to give NIU a 5-2 lead. Leon’s third goal of the game was his 25th goal of the season.
The Huskies were able to maintain their lead and win the game for the sweep of the weekend. Jake Leon made 29 saves on 31 shots in the contest. NIU outshot NMU 44-31. The Huskies went 1-3 on the power play and the Wildcats went 1-6 on the man advantage.
“The outdoor game was a good experience,” Finley said. “It’s always fun to mix it up and play in a different atmosphere. I think we let the rainy weather get to us at the beginning of the game and we played a little slower than we would have liked. Luckily, we got the insurance goals we needed before the snow came. It was hard to skate and stickhandle in the snow, but it was a good win and a good sweep to start an important spring semester.”
“It’s always fun and exciting to participate in an outdoor game and it brings everyone back to our roots of playing hockey on the pond when we were growing up,” Rinaldo said. “There were some challenges that came along with our outdoor experience this year with some rain and snow which caused some tough ice conditions. Everyone made the necessary adjustments to the elements and we were still able to execute as effectively as possible.”
“It was just one of those weekends where everything fell into place,” sophomore defenseman Tommy Turner said. “We stuck to a simple game of getting the puck deep and forechecking hard which led us to two big wins.”
The Huskies will now travel up to Minnesota to take on Saint Mary’s University.
“We need to play a strong couple of games in a short time frame,” Finley said. “The key will be to play as a team and roll four lines so we can stay fresh for the early game Sunday. We need to limit mistakes and penalties and we should be able to use our speed to wear down their bench.”
“We need to bring a fast paced game right out of the gate and make Saint Mary’s play at our tempo,” Turner said.
“In order to be successful at Saint Mary’s this weekend, we need to stay on track with what we started last weekend,” Rinaldo said. “Saint Mary’s is going to be a similar squad to Northern Michigan with some good goal scorers. If we get the puck deep, forecheck hard and crash the net, we will be able to find plenty of success on the road this weekend.”
The Huskies will take on Saint Mary’s at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 16 and at 9 a.m. on Sunday, January 17 at Saint Mary’s University Ice Arena in Winona, Minnesota.