By Kim Wrona
10/28/14 – DeKalb, IL | The DII Huskies made the long trek up to Minnesota on Friday to take on St. Thomas University. NIU brought a 7 game winning streak into the weekend and was able to extend it to 9 victories in a row by sweeping St. Thomas.
“This is the longest winning streak in my tenure,” general manager Ian Kalanges said. “It’s good to be going on a 9 game winning streak going into the first rankings, which will be out by this weekend. I know the boys are playing excited every game and there’s a lot of positive energy at all times now.”
“It’s awesome,” senior forward Joe Serpico said. “It’s good for the guys. We’re coming together a lot. There’s not so much negativity going around like there was last year; with losses, comes negativity. Without the losses, it’s kind of nice. But 9 in a row is great and hopefully one more will make it double digits. From there, who knows?”
“I think, with this much winning, it becomes contagious in the fact that we’ve had to come from behind [in] some of these games,” junior forward Anthony Ricciardi said. “We’ve had to battle to keep leads for some of the games and we’ve gotten W’s on all of them. We’ve won dirty. We’ve won sexy. We’ve won every way possible.”
“I think it’s pretty sweet,” freshman forward Pat Wrobel said. “We got to just keep going and keep building off of that 9 game win streak.”
“First of all, it’s phenomenal any time a team can go on a 9 game winning streak, especially with the strength of our schedule and playing in the MACHA,” head coach Chuck Rinaldo said. “You just don’t see it very often. I’m very proud of the guys. We’ve had some tough games we’ve had to battle through. I think there’s more wins to come. The key is that, we had some challenging games to start the season, and I think it raised our level of play very quickly. It also raised our expectations from ourselves. It’s one of those things that, losses are going to come eventually. But the key is how we handle them. So far, when we’ve gone down and fallen behind in games, we bounce right back. Whenever the streak–knock on wood, hopefully it doesn’t end anytime soon–but whenever it does, is how we perform the next day. I’m confident; we’ve got good veterans in the locker room and guys that are going to keep the streak alive as long as possible.”
“I think one of the biggest things is that, between the last handful of games we played last year and what we’ve done this year, we’ve limited the amount of times that we see ourselves getting down and defeating ourselves and we’ve come back and just won these games,” Ricciardi said. “9 of them in a row is pretty special in any type of level of hockey or sports.”
To achieve the mark of the 9 game winning streak, the Huskies defeated St. Thomas on Friday by a score of 7-2 and on Saturday by a score of 5-3.
“Friday’s game was good,” Nick Madonia, who served as head coach over the weekend with Rinaldo not able to make the trip, said. “We started off fast. We could tell that St. Thomas just kind of got down on themselves fast when we got out to a good start. We were able to cycle the puck on them and roll 4 lines the whole game. Their defense wasn’t able to break up our attack so we took full advantage of it.”
Senior forwards Justin Rucinski (twice) and Nick Leon, freshman forward Eric Svejda, Serpico (twice) and Wrobel all scored for the Huskies while senior goaltender Alex Hare made 28 saves on 30 shots during Friday’s contest.
Rucinski gave the Huskies a 1-0 lead in the first period and the Huskies were able to add 3 more goals during the second period to go up 4-0. St. Thomas tallied before the period finished, but the Huskies stormed back in the third with 3 more goals to solidify their lead.
“We came off that bus flying and ready to skate,” Ricciardi said. “I think we jumped out to a 3-0 lead right away. What was key about that was that instead of stopping, we kept our foot on the gas pedal—full throttle—all 60 minutes.”
“I thought it was a pretty high intense game,” Wrobel said. “We came out to play. I scored the first goal, actually, of that game to get it started up. I feel like we played well as a team and actually communicated well on the ice, saw each other, saw the open lanes and just came out to play all 3 periods.”
“Friday was good,” Serpico said. “We came out with some good intensity in the beginning of the first. We kind of fell off in the second half of the first and beginning of the second, but Hare played really well. He kept it at a 1-0 lead and then the middle of the second, we kind of found our legs again and kind of put them away. They got one at the end, but it was pretty much over after the second period.”
St. Thomas got out to a better start on Saturday and challenged the Huskies early and often.
“Saturday was a little bit more of a struggle,” Madonia said. “We had all day at Mall of American doing whatever, so, we were a little bit more exhausted for some reason on Saturday than we were on Friday. After a rough start, we fought our way back. A good team is able to win games that they should even when they don’t have their best punch.”
“Saturday, they came to play,” Serpico said. “They wanted to knock us off our pedestal and we didn’t really take them so seriously. We were able to hang [on] long enough to pull out a victory, but it was close. We were on the fritz there for a little while.”
“Saturday’s game was a little bit more chippy,” Wrobel said. “We kind of got involved in their game and played down to their level for a little bit, but we came out in the third and dominated that period and won 5-3.”
St. Thomas jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period before Svejda cut the home team’s lead in half. Senior forward Mark Greenberg tied the game in the second period and Ricciardi gave the Huskies their first lead of the tilt about 7 minutes later. St. Thomas tied the game up at 3 in the third period, but Greenberg and junior defenseman Troy Heurlin added markers to put the Huskies up for good.
“What was very key about that game was we didn’t get down on ourselves,” Ricciardi said. “We didn’t just see ourselves losing 2-1. We knew, collectively in that room, that even though they were putting so much pressure on us the first 10 minutes, we knew we could come back and beat them. The second period, which has been notorious for our struggles, we ended up winning that period 2-1. Then we went in the locker room … and just came out and battled the third period. It got a little chippy. The referees were calling it a lot tighter in that last  minutes than they had been the whole first 5 periods. It was a great weekend, long bus ride home, just because it was in the middle of the morning and night, but coming back with 2 wins feels really good going against Northern Michigan.”
The Huskies will be on the road again on Friday, October 31 and Saturday, November 1 as they travel up to Northern Michigan University for 2 contests in the Upper Peninsula.
“We just got to come out and play the game that we know how to play,” Serpico said. “Missouri State was like our hardest challenge this year. That’s like the only team that has been able to really skate with us when we play our game for 60 minutes. But that’s been our toughest challenge. We got to make sure our second period is strong because that’s been our enemy all year is weak second periods. As long as we play 60 minutes of our game, we should win them.”
“We really [need to] come off the bus and shake those bus legs in warm-ups so that by the time the puck drops, we’re ready to go and we’re level with them as if we didn’t just ride on a bus for 7 hours,” Ricciardi said. “It’ll be exciting because it’ll be one of the better teams we’ve played in a while. If we can really pull out 2 victories against them, it’ll be a huge momentum booster for the teams like Illinois State and SIUE, and if we see Missouri State again, it will be huge to play them. So, it’ll be fun and exciting to see where we are after this weekend.”
Friday’s contest is slated to being at 7 p.m. at Lakeview Arena in Marquette, MI and Saturday’s game is set to begin at 1 p.m. at Barry Events Center in Marquette as well.