DIII Huskies Victorious Outdoors

DIII Huskies victorious outdoors

By Kim Wrona

1/14/15 – DeKalb, IL  |  The DIII Huskies were back in action on January 9 and 10 as they took on Robert Morris University Black in 2 games. 

Friday’s contest was held at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville and Saturday’s contest was the main event as the 2 teams took their talents outside to MB Financial Park in Rosemont for an outdoor game.

Both the Huskies and the Eagles looked rusty on Friday night in the first period as they took the ice for their first game action since returning from winter break.  The result from that was a scoreless opening frame.

The second period brought about many penalties for both teams.  Consequently, RMU was able to score the first goal of the contest with 7:23 remaining in the middle frame; the goal was scored during 4-on-4 play.  The Eagles made it 2-0 just over 3 minutes later and then added a shorthanded goal with 2:57 left in the period to extend their lead to 3-0.

The Huskies were able to cut their deficit to 2 with a marker from sophomore forward Jeremy Bilecki just before the halfway point of the third period, but that was as close as NIU would get to the lead. RMU added 2 more goals in the last six minutes of the game to make the final score 5-1.

“I think Friday’s game pretty much started off with really bad preparation off the ice,” sophomore goaltender JoJo Durrbeck said.  “I think it was rough from even before we stepped on the ice for warm-ups just because we all weren’t mentally ready to play.  We came back from a month break and we missed that first Monday practice.  We only had 1 team practice to kind of just get into it.”

“We started out real slow,” sophomore defenseman Erik Demmin said.  “We started getting into their style of play, which is real physical.  …  That really hurt us.  We got a lot of penalties.  Special teams was the big thing.  We were on the penalty kill a lot so that was what hurt us the most, I feel like.”

“They were ready to play,” Durrbeck said.  “That first period, they were coming at us.  We kind of stayed with them the first 10 minutes, but after that, they just kept pushing stuff and they just kept building momentum and luckily we came out of the first 0-0.  … I think once they got that first goal, they would open up a little more and kind of get some more chances.  But I think penalties were a key, especially in both games this weekend.  We just got into a lot of the dirty stuff and we just kind of lost our minds.”

“We really got into trying to be tough guys, trying to just do things we shouldn’t be doing, which draws penalties,” senior forward and team captain Jc Weems said.  “A team like Robert Morris, they want to play 4-on-4; they’d rather do that than 5-on-5.  I felt like every time we had 5-on-5, we were actually outplaying them and then something would happen where we would pretty much go right back into 4-on-4. … We just got to make sure we keep our heads and let cooler heads prevail.”

Compared to Friday night’s game, the Huskies were ready to battle on Saturday night in Rosemont.

“Saturday’s game was probably better for us that it was outdoors,” Durrbeck said.  “We were just so ready to play in that game and play outdoors.  … It wasn’t like really intense before the game, but we were all ready to play.  We were all having fun.  We knew it was going to be a great experience.  We just wanted to make the most of it.”

Despite being prepared, RMU still scored the first goal of the game about halfway through the first period.  The puck just barely trickled past Durrbeck and in.  But 17 seconds later, the Huskies answered back and tied the game as senior forward Kyle Cornier followed up on a rebound.

With just over 4 minutes left in the first, Weems tallied from out in front while on the power play to give the Huskies their first lead of the weekend.

Weems tacked on another power play goal in the second period with put the Huskies up 3-1.  Just over a minute later, freshman forward Eric Brennan sent a shot flying past the RMU goaltender for another power play goal to put NIU up by 3.

The Huskies weren’t done scoring in the sandwich stanza as sophomore defenseman Bryan Peterson’s shot from the right point was deflected in by junior forward Aaron Lewis to make the score 5-1 in the Huskies’ favor.

The third period saw the Eagles make a valiant attempt at a comeback as they scored 3 times to cut their deficit to 1 goal.  The Huskies were able to hang on for the last 5 minutes of the game and take the 5-4 victory.

“The game went real well,” head coach Nick Madonia said.  “Instead of giving up, we came back and scored a goal a minute or 2 later.  In the second period, we were able to take advantage of some power plays that we were given; [it was] a strong first 2 periods.  And the third period, we came out real slow.  We gave up a couple goals that we would like to see go away, but we battled back and were able to hold onto the lead for the last 5 minutes.”

“I felt like the first 2 periods, we played excellent hockey,” Weems said.  “That’s the kind of hockey we have to be playing.  The third period, we started getting into the [bad play] a little bit, started getting some penalties, got in penalty trouble and that’s when they started to come back.  They got 2 power play goals for them and then they got another goal just because that’s what happens when you get the momentum.  Next thing you know, it’s a 5-4 game and we’re fighting a lot harder than we should have had to in the last 5 minutes there.”

Taking part in the outdoor game is something the Huskies will never forget.

“It was one of the coolest games I’ve ever been a part of,” Madonia said.  “The conditions were just as good, if not better, than some of the actual indoor rinks we’ve played at.  To top it off, we played Robert Morris who has become our biggest rival.  We match up really well against them.”

“It was a dream come true to get to play outdoors, for one,” Weems said.  “It’s always been a dream of mine so it was nice to actually finally get to do that.  It was even better to score some.  That’s always a dream; whenever you get in a big game like that, you get to have a chance to kind of celebrate a little.  That was fun.  The whole thing was great.”

“During the game, you do your best to coach, but every once in a while, you pick your head up, look around and kind of say to yourself, ‘this is really cool,’” Madonia said.  “It was an awesome experience and at the end to be able to hold on for the win and get to take pictures with everyone and talk to all the families that were there who came out to enjoy it, it was special.”

Even though the game was outdoors, the challenges of playing in the elements were minimal and it added to the atmosphere of the game.

“The atmosphere was cool,” Demmin said.  “It was the first time I played outdoors, so it was a really cool experience.  The wind and the cold were the biggest challenges.  [During] the second period, the wind was in our face the whole time so that was difficult.  Before, I was pretty pumped about the game because it was my first time.  …  And after the game, it was pretty cool just to finally get to be done with what I always dreamed of doing so it was awesome.”

“The atmosphere was great,” Durrbeck said.  “It was the first outdoor game that I have ever played in. … The ice was good.  I didn’t have any problem with it.  It was hard.  There wasn’t much time to dig into it; there wasn’t a lot of snow build up and the snow that was built up was really light so it was easy to push around.  It was like we were skating on clean ice the entire period.  It felt really nice.  It felt really hard.  It felt really good for the skates.”

“The whole atmosphere was great,” Weems said.  “It’s a once in a life time thing.  They [Rosemont] did a really good job.”

The Huskies will now take on Western Illinois University on January 16 and 17 at Owens Center in Peoria.

“I think we just have to prepare,” Durrbeck said.  “I think that was just one key thing that we can take away from this weekend was just preparation.  We didn’t prepare well on Friday and we didn’t play very well.  We prepared better on Saturday and we played well on Saturday.  So I think just really working on mental preparation and staying with our game and keeping our heads throughout a whole 60 minutes is something we have to do against Western and I think we will come away with 2 points in each game.”

“Hard work,” Demmin said about having success against Western.  “That’s about it.  We need a lot of power plays.  We need to do good on the penalty kill and our goaltending needs to be solid.”

“These are 2 games we got to have,” Weems said.  “We got to go out there, busting our [butts] in every corner.  We have to win every battle.  Once again, we got to stay out of penalty trouble.  We can skate with anyone 5-on-5, but 5-on-4, 4-on-4, that’s getting out of our comfort zone.  I think every game you look back that we struggled, it’s because of penalty trouble, so we have to stay out of that.  [We have to] keep our heads on straight and skate hard.  Skating hard will get you anything you want.”

For Demmin, this weekend will also be a special one.

“Western plays in Peoria so it will be good to get back home since I’m from Peoria,” he said.  “I’ll have a big crowd cheering me on so I’ll have a lot of fun getting to play in front of family and friends.  It’ll be a blast.”

The start times for the games have not been announced yet; stay tuned to niuhockey.com for more details.