By Kim Wrona
10/22/15 – DeKalb, IL | The DIII Huskies were at home at Leafs Ice Centre for the first time during the 2015-16 season on October 16 and 17. NIU hosted Dordt College and the teams split the weekend set.
Both contests over the weekend were low-scoring affairs. Friday’s game featured NIU getting on the board first in the second period courtesy of junior forward Ryan Long.
The Huskies took their 1-0 lead into the second period, but Dordt tied the game up at one with 6:50 left in regulation, which eventually sent the game into overtime.
A turnover near the blue line in the offensive zone during the extra frame cost the Huskies the game as Dordt picked up the loose puck, brought it down the ice and scored the game winning goal with 2:24 left.
Sophomore goaltender Zach Bugajsky made 42 saves on 44 shots in the contest.
“Dordt was a team we matched up with well,” head coach Nick Madonia said. “Friday was a real back-and-forth game. Their goalie made some big saves. Zach–like he’s done all season–stepped up and played a solid game, kept us in it, kept us ahead.
“[This is] kind of another ongoing theme: we couldn’t catch a bounce. We hit a couple of posts in the third period that would have put us ahead by two goals. But credit to Dordt, they played a good game. They were able to score off of a face-off play that was pretty bang-bang. We didn’t really have much of a chance on it to get a winger out there, it was just real fast-moving. And then in overtime, it was just a bad turnover that led to a goal. It came from a player that doesn’t generally make bad decisions like that, but it’s hockey and unfortunately these things happen. I wasn’t too upset with Friday’s game just because we came out and played well.”
“We spent the first month of the season on the road,” Long said. “Obviously from our record, it wasn’t good for us to spend that much time on the road. We weren’t comfortable there. To be back here, where we’re comfortable in front of our fans, gave us a boost and we showed it on the ice over the weekend.”
Long also scored the Huskies’ first goal on Saturday to give NIU a 1-0 lead in the first period. The Huskies were only in front by one goal until just past the three minute mark of the third period.
Senior defenseman Gregg Jacobson scored to open up the Huskies’ lead to 2-0.
Freshman forward Thomas Knetl tacked on another insurance goal just under two minutes later to make the score 3-0 in the Huskies’ favor. Sophomore goaltender Jake Tower locked it down from there on out to seal the victory. Tower made 47 saves in his first shutout performance of his collegiate career.
“Saturday’s game was a lot of fun,” Tower said. “I was going into the game knowing that I wanted to prove that … we could get our second win of the season. So I just made sure that I was at the top of my game the entire time. Getting that first shutout of college was a lot of fun, especially doing it with this group of guys and having a good amount of fans here to see it.”
“Dordt was definitely a team we competed with very well,” Knetl said. “We played our game the way we know how to and the bounces went our way in the second game and the goals just kept coming.”
“Tower played great for us,” Long said. “Same story as the first game as far as the first two periods were concerned, we got that lead over the course of the game. After that, they took it to us and Tower really stood on his head. He was our most valuable player that game for sure.”
“Tower played an unbelievable game,” Madonia said. “That was the best game I’ve seen him play the last two years. It’s good to see the goalies stepping up and doing their part. I told the guys in the locker room before the third period on Saturday that this is our chance to redeem ourselves because we were in the same position that we were on Friday. Long had a huge weekend. His first two college goals were in games that meant a whole lot. … They were goals at big times. Saturday, the third period started and instead of sitting back and waiting for the game to come to us, we took it right to Dordt and were able to put another two goals in, which wound up making the difference.”
The Huskies will face-off against Lewis University in their next set of games.
“We just have to continue what we’re doing, playing our game,” Knetl said. “We’re a good hockey team. If we keep working the way we do, we’ll come out flying, we’ll get ahead and we’ll win.”
“We need to make sure we don’t do anything stupid, don’t get into any bad penalties or anything like that,” Tower said. “We have to make sure we watch our passes and just play an overall 60 minute game and go for the win.”
“We have to play the same way that we know how to play,” Long said. “I know we have a 2-8 [1-6-0-2] record, but I know we’re a whole lot better of a team than that. So we just have to play the way we know how to play and if we get the lead, we have to maintain it.”
Instead of playing Friday-Saturday games this weekend, the Huskies will be playing on Thursday and Friday.
“Thursday and Friday are going to be different,” Madonia said. “It’s going to change the routine around for a lot of people. Obviously, we’ve played very few, if any games on Thursdays the last few years. We’re just going to have to be able to change the way we prepare mentally for the games on Thursday and Friday. If we play 60 minutes, we’re not going to lose to a lot of teams. Saturday we played a full 60 and we wound up winning. Friday we played 55 good minutes and wound up losing in overtime.”
The Huskies’ games against Lewis are set for 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 22 and 10 p.m. on Friday, October 23 at Leafs Centre in West Dundee.