By Kim Wrona
12/1/15 – DeKalb, IL | The DIII Huskies hosted Loyola University at Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee on Friday, November 20.
The Huskies had two chances early in the first period to take a commanding lead over the Ramblers. Junior forward Jeremy Bilecki found himself on a breakaway just 32 seconds into the contest, but hit the post. Junior forward Tyler Hilton then had a chance from the slot about four minutes later, but drew iron as well.
Loyola ended up drawing the first blood of the game just past the seven minute mark of the opening frame with a backhanded shot that beat sophomore goaltender Jake Tower up high.
14 seconds later, Tower was beat by a shot that went low blocker side to give the visitors a 2-0 lead.
The Huskies calmed down later on in the period and were able to get on the board as Hilton tallied his 20th goal of the season on a breakaway to make it 2-1 Loyola.
The Ramblers restored their two goal lead with 3:32 left in the first period with a shot that beat Tower five-hole.
The Huskies battled their way back into the game during the second period.
Freshman forward Mike Neville scored with a shot from the top of the Loyola crease just over 13 minutes into the middle frame to bring NIU within one goal of the lead.
With 1:26 remaining in the sandwich stanza, junior forward Ryan Saunders tossed a shot on goal and the puck found its way into the back of the net to tie the game up at three.
The Huskies got their first power play of the game just over three minutes into the third period, but they weren’t able to score on it.
Six minutes later, Loyola scored from the slot on a delayed penalty sequence to take a 4-3 lead in the game. The Ramblers then tacked on a power play goal just under two minutes later to make it 5-3 in the visitors’ favor.
The Huskies had some chances to close the gap later in the period. They were awarded a power play, but weren’t able to convert. Additionally, Bilecki and junior forward Cody Billeck found themselves on a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush with 2:08 to go in the game. But Billeck’s shot was robbed by a glove save by the Loyola netminder.
The Huskies pulled Tower for the extra attacker within the last minute of the game, but the Huskies dropped the game by the 5-3 final. The Huskies outshout the Ramblers 53-38 in the contest.
“It was a good game,” head coach Nick Madonia said. “We fought our way back but we hit four or five posts in that game so there’s not much we can do about that. Our guys played well. Loyola is a good team. They’re a ranked team so it’s nice to play with the ranked teams close, but eventually we have to start winning those games.”
The Huskies and Loyola were supposed to play another game the following day, but it was canceled due to the harsh weather conditions.
“Saturday we were disappointed that we didn’t have a game,” Madonia said. “We were able to make the best of the situation and have a little holiday party with all the parents, girlfriends and some of the kids.”
NIU’s next set of games will take place north of the Illinois border as the Huskies will face the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“Milwaukee is going to be a tough test,” Madonia said. “When we’re on, we can play with any team on our schedule; we can beat any team on our schedule. We just have to make sure we show up there ready to play.”
“We just have to play our game,” Saunders said. “We were told that they play just like [Robert Morris University] Black. So we know how we have to play to beat them. If they’re like Black, we just have to play our game and stay out of the penalty box.”
The Huskies and the Panthers will play at 7 p.m. on Friday, December 4 and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, December 5 at Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.