By Kim Wrona
12/16/15 – DeKalb, IL | The DIII Huskies hosted Western Illinois University on December 11 and 12 at Leafs Ice Centre to finish off the fall semester portion of the 2015-16 season.
The Huskies got on the board early and often on Friday night. The scoring started 3:50 into the game as freshman defenseman Mike Neville sent a shot into the back of the net to put NIU up 1-0.
The home squad struck later in the period with two quick goals. With 3:31 left in the opening frame, junior forward Cody Billeck netted a marker. One minute later, Neville added his second goal of the contest to give the Huskies a 3-0 lead.
WIU tallied before the period ended to make the score 3-1 going into the second period.
The visitors cut their deficit to one just before the seven minute mark of the period with a breakaway goal. Junior forward Jeremy Bilecki restored the Huskies’ two goal lead about four minutes later as he scored off of a pass from senior forward Mike Holum.
With 1:22 left in the middle frame, senior forward and team captain Jc Weems set up junior forward Ryan Saunders with a nice pass. Saunders then deked the WIU goaltender and sent a backhanded shot into the net to give the Huskies a 5-2 lead.
The third period scoring opened just after the 3:30 mark with Bilecki’s second of the evening with a shot from around the left hashmarks. Junior forward Tyler Hilton scored on a power play with 5:01 left in regulation to extend the Huskies’ lead to five. Senior forward Dan Flynn added his first collegiate goal with 41.4 seconds remaining to make the final score 8-2 in the Huskies’ favor.
Sophomore goaltender Jake Tower made 25 saves on 27 shots on goal. The Huskies outshot Western 50-27. NIU went 1-2 on the power play and was disciplined enough to not let WIU have a chance on the man advantage.
“Friday everyone really came out to play,” Weems said. “It was our last games of the semester and at home so it was nice to come out and get a big win. I felt like we controlled pretty much every aspect of the game.”
“Friday was a good team effort,” Billeck said. “We came out a little slow, but overall, we tightened it up in the end.”
Initially, Saturday’s game was not kind to the Huskies. Senior goaltender Rob Paulsen started in net for NIU and he deflected a WIU dump-in out of midair with his stick and into the back of his own net.
The bleeding didn’t stop there for the Huskies as WIU went up 2-0 about three minutes later. With 6:53 left in the first period, a perfect shot picked the corner as it beat Paulsen blocker side to put the visitors up 3-0. That goal ended Paulsen’s night and sophomore goaltender Zach Bugajsky took over the crease for the remainder of the game.
The netminder switch gave the Huskies some life as Weems tallied a power play goal 1:24 later with a shot from near the bottom of the right circle.
Despite the late period tally, WIU restored its three goal lead just before the halfway point of the second period as a deflection was able to get by Bugajsky.
The Huskies weren’t going to go down without a fight though. With 7:58 left in the middle frame, Billeck scored from near the bottom of the left circle to cut the Huskies’ deficit to 4-2. Weems brought NIU within one just before the eight minute mark of the third period with a backhanded shot.
The Huskies battled back and tied the game up at four with 7:27 remaining in regulation as Bilecki scored from an impossible angle from along the goal line. The NIU train kept rolling as Billeck scored his second of the game from the slot with only 1:47 left in regulation to put the home team up 5-4 for the first time in the contest.
Bugajsky made a huge, diving, desperation save with 1:03 left to keep the Huskies ahead by one goal. Weems then tacked on an empty net goal with 2.5 seconds to go to complete his hat trick and to give the Huskies a 6-4 victory and a sweep of the weekend.
“Saturday we came out flat with it being the last game of the semester,” Weems said. “It is easy to come out complacent after a big win the night before. … It was a big comeback that was extremely needed. It’s always better to go into the latter part of the season after a big win. We just need to make sure we stay on top of everyone in the second semester and not have any big let downs.”
“Good teams find a way to win and that’s what we did,” Billeck said.
The Huskies finished the fall semester with a record of 12-8-1-1. The next time the Huskies take the ice, they will be facing Robert Morris University-Black. The teams will play at 10 p.m. on January 8 and at 6 p.m. on January 9 at Leafs Centre in West Dundee.