By Kim Wrona
9/24/14 – DeKalb, IL | The 2014-15 season began for the DIII Huskies on Friday and Saturday at Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva as they hosted the Missouri State Ice Bears.
Both contests did not end in favor of NIU though; both games saw the Huskies fall by 3 goal deficits.
The first period on Friday was a tame one between the Huskies and the Ice Bears; no goals were scored and no penalties were called.
With 7:51 left in the second period, Missouri State broke sophomore goaltender JoJo Durrbeck’s shutout bid with a power play goal to go up 1-0. Before the third period was 3 minutes old, the visitors tallied twice to go up 3-0.
Freshman forward Dakota Slone scored the first goal of the Huskies’ season with 16:23 to go in the final frame to bring NIU within 2, but the Ice Bears restored their lead less than a minute later with their fourth marker of the night.
The Huskies continued to battle as they cut the lead down once more with a power play marker from senior forward Brian Staffeldt. Sophomore forward Jeremy Bilecki had crashed the net and it gave Staffeldt the opportunity to stuff one past the Ice Bears’ goaltender.
Missouri State restored its lead one more time with 7:17 to go in the game with another power play tally to make it 5-2.
NIU was handed a big opportunity to get back in the game with 1:58 to go as Missouri State’s Austin Purdy was given a 5 minute major penalty for spearing.
Bilecki capitalized a little over a minute later to make the score 5-3; the Huskies still had 3:57 left on the man advantage.
“[Captain and senior forward Jc] Weems got the puck and I cut behind him and he slid it through the defenseman,” Bilecki said. “I saw the hole in between the arm and the torso [of the goalie] and just put it through there.”
Durrbeck was pulled for the extra skater with 30 seconds to go, but Missouri State sealed the victory with an empty net goal to make it 6-3.
“It’s always tough the first weekend of the season especially with having so many new guys,” head coach Nick Madonia said. “It was 1-0 going into the 3rd period and it opened up too much. […] A bounce either way makes a big difference.”
“We played probably the toughest team we’ll play all year,” Durrbeck said. “I think they’re a really tough DIII opponent. They’re probably, I would say, a national contender. I think we played them hard and gave them some competition to start the year.”
Saturday’s first period was not as calm as Friday’s. The Huskies were down 2-0 after 20 minutes and were not able to convert on 2 power plays, whereas Missouri State had converted on 2 of 3 man advantages.
The Huskies made an early second period 5-on-3 power play count as senior forward Kyle Cornier and Bilecki both got on the board to tie the game up at 2.
Missouri State tacked on 3 goals to go up 5-2, but junior forward Aaron Lewis let a shot go that went blocker side on the Ice Bears’ goaltender to bring the Huskies within 2 before the sandwich stanza concluded.
Missouri State came out flying in the third period as the team tallied once more at the 19 second mark. The Ice Bears also tallied once more—their second shorthanded marker of the night—with 7:15 remaining to make it 7-3.
With 1:08 to go in the final frame, junior forward Tyler Hilton went top shelf on Missouri State’s netminder to make the final score 7-4.
“Tyler Hilton had a great weekend,” Madonia said. “He was all over the puck, creating turnovers and using his speed to get odd man breaks.”
Despite the losses, the Huskies are looking at the games against Missouri State in a positive light.
“I feel like we can use these 2 games as a template for the rest of the year,” Durrbeck said. “We can always be like, ‘hey we played Missouri State and they’re one of the better teams in the league and we stuck with them, so why can’t we stick with any other team?’”
“It was nice playing that team because they’re a really tough opponent,” Bilecki said. “In the long run, it’s going to help us out a lot by being able to have the legs later on because they’re a team who’s fast and we kept up with them.”
“It was a good team to play against to start the year and it was good competition to just get going,” Durrbeck said. “It’s easier to know that you’re playing a hard opponent going into the season so you can get mentally prepared to really go into battle.”
“From going from last year when we got smoked 11-1 and to start these games 6-3 with an empty netter and 7-4 and be contending with them, it’s really good to see out of the team,” Bilecki said. “And it’s nice having a full bench this year, too.”
That full bench contained many rookies playing in their first ever ACHA action.
“The rookies played okay,” Madonia said. “It’s kind of tough to jump in right away against a team like Missouri State who is one of the better DIII teams this year. It was about what I expected out of them.”
The Huskies have a weekend off before taking on Robert Morris University Black.
“We need to get a little bit more chemistry going with our lines, figure out what our defense pairings will look like, and special teams play needs some work,” Madonia said.
“If we bring what we brought to Missouri State I feel like we’ll be in really good shape,” Durrbeck said.
“[We need to] stay out of the penalty box,” Bilecki said. “I took a stupid penalty [on Friday] but if we stay out of the penalty box we can have more offensive pressure. […] Also, with them, if you get a couple goals on them quick, they get dirty so we have to stay out of all the goony-ness and we’ll be fine.”
“They’re not a team you can blow off,” Durrbeck said. “We have to bring the same intensity and they’re going to want to bring it and knock us off, too. It’s a team with lesser skill than Missouri State so it’s games that we know we can win and think we should be able to win going forward.”
The Huskies will host RMU Black at 7:20 p.m. on October 3rd and at 3:10 p.m. on October 4th at Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee.