By Kim Wrona
2/4/16 – DeKalb, IL | The DIII Huskies participated in a home-and-home series with Aurora University on January 29 and 30. Unfortunately for NIU, the Spartans came out on top in both contests.
Friday’s game was held at Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva and the home team dominated early and often. Aurora scored nine unanswered goals to take the game by a score of 9-0. Sophomore goaltender Zach Bugajsky started the game and made 35 saves on 41 shots in two periods of play. Sophomore goaltender Jake Tower played the third period and made 25 saves on 28 shots on goal. Aurora outshot NIU by a margin of 69-20.
“Friday we didn’t come out and execute our game plan and everything fell apart from the start,” junior forward Cody Billeck said. “We came out flat and weren’t physical enough to slow down a fast paced team.”
Saturday was senior night for NIU as the home-and-home series concluded at Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee. Captain Jc Weems, forwards Matt Schaben, Daniel Flynn and Kyle Luken and defenseman Gregg Jacobson were honored in a pre-game ceremony.
In the game, the Huskies came out flying and matched Aurora’s pace. The first period was almost a scoreless affair until the Spartans scored with 1:39 remaining in the frame.
Aurora scored twice before the halfway point of the second period to make the score 3-0. The Huskies were able to score their first goal of the weekend with 5:53 left in the stanza as Billeck netted his 17th goal of the year to make the score 3-1.
The Spartans extended their lead to 4-1 in the third period with a controversial shorthanded goal which then led to Weems and head coach Nick Madonia being kicked out of the game. The Huskies were able to close the gap to two again with 7:09 left in regulation. Junior forward Tyler Hilton went top shelf with a nice shot for his 28th marker of the year to make it 4-2 AU.
The Huskies almost closed the gap to one with 1:18 left in the game as Billeck set up Hilton. Hilton got the shot off, and the AU goalie juggled the puck, but he made the save.
The Spartans scored an empty net goal while on a power play with 37.8 seconds remaining in regulation to make the final score 5-2 in the visiting team’s favor.
“Saturday we played probably one of our best games of the season,” Billeck said. “We were successful in our game plan and we kept constant pressure and set them back on their heels. Unfortunately, they had a couple of fortunate bounces that allowed them to stay ahead of us.”
“I would say that Saturday was our best effort of the season,” Jacobson said. “Everyone came prepared and bought into the system. Aurora is a good team. We just didn’t get the bounces.”
The Huskies will close out the 2015-16 regular season with two road games against Ball State University.
“I think if we play like we did Saturday we should have a good shot at beating them,” Jacobson said. “We don’t know a whole lot about them, but I expect them to be a good team. It’ll be good for us heading into the playoffs.”
NIU and Ball State will face-off against each other at 9 p.m. on February 5 and at 1 p.m. on February 6 at the Fuel Tank at Fishers in Fishers, Indiana.