By Kim Wrona
10/7/15 – DeKalb, IL | The DIII Huskies continued their road trip to start the 2015-16 season as they traveled down to Peoria, IL for two games against Bradley University on October 2 and 3. Unfortunately for NIU, the losing streak continued as Bradley swept the Huskies in two games.
The Huskies started Friday’s game on a high note as senior forward Mike Holum scored 3:28 into the game to give NIU a 1-0 lead.
Bradley was able to tie the game up about eight minutes later, but junior forward Tyler Hilton put the Huskies back on top before the period concluded.
Bradley then scored four straight goals between the second period and the beginning of the third period. Junior defenseman Jake Jauch scored about four minutes into the final frame to cut the Huskies’ deficit to 5-3, but then
Bradley added an empty net goal later in the final frame to make the final score 6-3.
“I think we underperformed a bit,” Holum said. “We kept with them for one period and then in the second period, we took a stupid penalty and let them get a power play goal. They started to pull away and we just haven’t done well with playing catch-up at all this season.”
“Friday’s game we came out and scored the first goal and then came back out [for the second period] and played a little bit slower than the first period,” junior forward Ryan Saunders said. “We didn’t have the energy as much as they did. Hopefully in the upcoming weekends, we get that energy back and play a full 60 minutes like our usual hockey team does.”
“So far, the short story of our season is we can’t catch a break,” head coach Nick Madonia said. “We outplayed Bradley for 50 minutes and we had a 10 minute stretch where we gave up three goals in the second period and we were never able to bounce back from it.”
Saturday’s game started very similar to Friday’s tilt. Holum scored early in the first period to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead.
Bradley scored twice after that to take a 2-1 lead, but sophomore forward Matthew Gould tied the game back up for the
Huskies around the halfway mark of the opening frame.
Bradley scored the go-ahead goal in the second period and scored twice more in the third period to make the final score 5-2 in the home team’s favor.
“We just need to support our goalies better,” Holum said. “It was much like Friday’s game in that we kept with them and then took a penalty in the second period and let them get a power play goal. Once again, we were playing catch-up and it went downhill.”
“We stuck with them in the first period,” senior goaltender Rob Paulsen said. “[In] the second, there was a penalty … and a lucky bounce went in and we never were able to come back from that. I think that’s one thing that we really need to look to in the future, when we do get behind a goal or two, is having our special teams get an opportunity to at least get some good shots on goal or something along those lines that would really help spark our team. It’s just disappointing that we didn’t get two wins this weekend.”
“Everything was looking good,” Madonia said about the contest. “Then we had [junior forward Cody] Billeck pick a corner and hit the knob of the goalie’s stick, which is something that happens so few times per year that it’s just kind of one of those things. Saturday we hit three posts and the knob of a goalie’s stick. We played well; obviously there are always some things that you can fix, but I’m not upset with the way we played, we just need to be able to convert on some of these chances.”
Paulsen’s start in net on Saturday evening marked the first of his college career.
“It was good to get my first start out of the way,” the Johnsburg, IL native said. “It was kind of a relief type of deal. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be. Once the first couple shots came, I just kind of fell into playing a normal hockey game.”
The Huskies wrap up their early road trip against Robert Morris University-Black on October 9 and 10. The two games will mark the first time these two teams have met since February 14 when NIU defeated RMU in the MACHA Bronze Championship game.
“They’re going to be really hungry for another win since they’re in our conference and they know that we beat them last year,” Saunders said. “We’re definitely not going to want to stop and let go of the gas pedal during the whole game.”
“We have to work hard, play a full 60 minutes and focus on our special teams,” Paulsen said. “Penalty killers [have to] make sure that they’re clearing the puck out, and our power play, even if they’re not scoring goals, [are] at least wearing down the other teams penalty killers or making them play tough minutes. Too many times we’re sitting there and playing chase-the-puck on our power play instead of tiring out the other team’s defense.”
“We need to … stay out of the penalty box and make sure our special teams really capitalize and outwork the opponent,” Holum said.
“Games against Black are always emotional games,” Madonia said. “We see them so often … [that] we have developed a pretty good rivalry with them. Every game against them is a tough game you have to battle for. … I’m looking forward to it. The games are always fun. They’re our first taste of league play [this year] so we’ve got to get off to a good start with league play.”
The two teams will face-off at 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville, IL.