By Kim Wrona
10/7/14 – DeKalb, IL | The DII Huskies traveled down to Champaign for games against the University of Illinois on Friday and Saturday. When all was said and done, NIU returned home as victors as the Huskies swept the 2 game series.
Friday’s game featured a hat trick from freshman forward Eric Svejda, along with two tallies from senior forward Nick Leon and single markers from senior forwards Mark Greenberg and Justin Rucinski, junior forward Anthony Ricciardi and freshman defenseman Tommy Turner.
The Huskies had jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the 5 minute mark of the second period, but the Illini were able to tie the game up at 4 with just over 5 minutes remaining in the sandwich stanza. Leon broke that tie with a power play goal with 2 seconds remaining in the period and the Huskies never looked back as they rolled to a 9-4 victory.
Freshman goaltender Jake Leon was in net for the Huskies on Friday night and made 29 saves on 33 shots. Special teams were also a highlight for NIU as the power play went 5-10 and the Huskies were able to kill off all 8 Illini man advantages.
“We played well overall,” head coach Chuck Rinaldo said about Friday’s contest. “We had a couple of let downs in the second period, which seems to be our regular curse for some reason. [But] anytime you’re on the road, you have to take control of the game quickly and not let a home team settle in and find momentum. We definitely did that, we just got a little complacent in the second period and kind of had to regain the momentum in the third, but they showed great heart. It’s the old cliché once again: overcome adversity at some point throughout the game. And they did that. The third period showed that they could maintain a lead and put it away, so it was good to see.”
Saturday’s game saw the Huskies’ offense get out to an early start as they jumped out to a 4-1 lead before the first period ended. Greenberg, Nick Leon (x2) and Svejda all tallied within the first 20 minutes.
Turner and senior forward Joe Serpico got on the board in the second and third periods respectively as the Huskies went on to win 6-4.
Senior goaltender Alex Hare made 30 saves on 34 shots for the Huskies en route to their victory. The Huskies went 1-3 on the power play while they killed off 6 of Illinois’ 8 man advantages.
“Saturday’s game was a little bit more sloppy,” Rinaldo said. “I think Illinois kind of changed how they did things. They tried to draw us into some penalties. They tried to kind of muck it up in the middle of the ice because we had a lot of space, obviously with the big ice surface down there. We didn’t have quite as much room to maneuver and they ended up creating some turnovers, but once again we adjusted. We scored the goals when we needed to, but it did get interesting again. Once again, we need to make sure we’re playing three full periods. If we do that, it shouldn’t be too tough to start winning even more games.”
The Huskies finish up their 6 game road trip as they head out to Coral Ridge Ice Arena in Coralville, IA to take on the University of Iowa on October 10 and 11.
“Iowa is a hard working team,” Rinaldo said. “They’re a team that is going to come out and try to put a lot of pucks in the net quickly, so being on the road again, we need to take momentum in that first period and slow them down and put them on their heels. If we can do that, I think we’ll be fine. If we give them any opportunity to go up by a couple of goals, it’s going to be hard just to battle back. They’re a team that doesn’t quit. Last year they came back and tied us and beat us in overtime so no lead is safe with that team. They can explode and score a bunch of goals quickly so we just got to put the pedal down and keep going.”
Friday’s game between the Huskies and the Hawkeyes is slated to begin at 7 p.m. and Saturday’s contest is set to start at 4:45 p.m.