By Kim Wrona
11/19/15 – DeKalb, IL | The DIII Huskies played in the Robert Morris University Showcase on November 13, 14 and 15 at The Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville. During the three game tournament, NIU went 2-1-0.
The Huskies first faced off against Robert Morris University-Black on Friday afternoon. NIU got on the board first as freshman defenseman Joe Schulz had his shot from the point deflected into the back of the net by an opposing player before the halfway point of the first period.
Less than two minutes later, the Huskies struck again as senior forward Mike Holum tallied to put NIU up 2-0.
Junior forward Cody Billeck tallied a power play goal later on in the period to give the Huskies a 3-0 lead. Holum concluded the first period scoring with his second marker of the game with 2:03 remaining to make it 4-0 NIU.
Junior forward Tyler Hilton added to the Huskies’ lead in the second period as he scored with a shot that went five-hole on the RMU goaltender.
Junior forward Jeremy Bilecki joined in on the scoring action with a breakaway goal with 9:03 to go in the third period to make the score 6-0 in NIU’s favor.
The Eagles broke sophomore goaltender Zach Bugajsky’s bid at a shutout with 3:20 remaining in regulation to make the final score 6-1.Bugajsky made 20 saves on 21 shots in the Huskies’ victory. NIU outshot RMU 41-21.
“I thought we pretty much dominated the whole game,” Bugajsky said. “They just got a lucky bounce and they scored off of it.”
“We played our game and a full 60 minutes,” junior forward Ryan Saunders said. “We never let up. Whenever we play Black, it’s a fun time. We came out with a pretty big ‘W’, especially with starting off the weekend.”
“We came out strong,” Bilecki said. “It was 4-0 after the first period and it was a great game. We also played our style of game. We didn’t get that many penalties.”
“Friday we went up 4-0 in the first period, which is exactly how I wanted to start the weekend off,” head coach Nick Madonia said. “I stressed a fast start to the weekend so we could roll through our lines and rest everybody [a little bit] for Saturday and Sunday because it was going to be a long weekend.”
The Huskies took on Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville on Saturday evening. The Huskies came out of the gate strong as Hilton scored from out in front of the net just 56 seconds into the contest.
The Cougars tallied a power play goal with 1:53 remaining in the first period to tie the game up at one. The shot came from below the goal line, bounced off of senior goaltender Rob Paulsen’s arm and into the back of the net.
The Huskies retook the lead within the first minute and a half of the second period as Bilecki found himself on a breakaway and fired a shot top shelf to make the score 2-1 in the Huskies’ favor.
Billeck tallied a power play goal from the right circle just over seven minutes into the middle frame to give NIU a two goal lead.
The Huskies continued their string of strong starts to periods as Hilton scored a power play goal 35 seconds into the third period. Hilton then completed his hat trick with a marker with 7:34 left in regulation.
Bilecki netted an empty net goal with 2:03 left in the tilt to give the Huskies a 6-2 victory. Paulsen made 16 saves on 18 shots in the contest.
“We came out really fast,” Paulsen said. “We got a couple of goals early. We’ve been doing a much better job of playing with the lead and… making sure we’re taking care of our defensive zone and taking advantage of the opportunities that we have.”
“We played them last weekend, so we knew what we had coming for us again,” Saunders said. “We definitely knew we had to play another full 60 minutes. We basically played the same way we played against Black. We never let up and we got the ‘W’.”
“SIUe shocked us a little bit, to be honest,” Madonia said. “Last week they had a totally different feel to them. They had a couple more people on the bench. They played a smarter game. They made themselves hard to play against. They trapped us through the neutral zone pretty well and it was tough to figure that out, especially in the first period. But we were able to change our game plan up and come out with a win.”
The Huskies’ final game on Sunday was against Indiana University, a team that received votes to be ranked in the North Region.
Indiana scored the first goal of the contest with 9:45 remaining in the first period. The Hoosiers added another goal with 2:51 left in the period on a 3-on-2 rush. The shot beat sophomore goaltender Jake Tower five-hole.
Indiana scored two more goals during the second period to give the Hoosiers a 4-0 lead. The third goal was a shot that went far side on Tower and the fourth was a shot from the right circle.
The Huskies got on the board 54 seconds into the third period, which was the first goal that Indiana had given up all tournament. Saunders netted the power play marker, which was his first goal of the 2015-16 season.
Hilton brought the Huskies within two goals with 6:11 left in regulation with a backhanded shot from out in front of the Indiana netminder.
The Huskies pulled Tower for a sixth attacker with 1:40 remaining in regulation. Indiana was able to take advantage of a turnover and tally an empty net goal with 36.1 seconds left to kill NIU’s chances at a possible comeback.
The Hoosiers added another goal with 22.5 seconds left to make the final score 6-2 in Indiana’s favor. Tower made 45 saves on 50 shots in the contest.
“I thought after playing two games before that, our team came out really strong,” Tower said. “Overall, we played a great game. [There is] nothing to keep our heads down about. They’re a great team and our team battled really hard.”
“Sunday’s game was definitely one we knew was going to be hard,” Saunders said. “We definitely came to play. We didn’t have our usual amount of skaters [with injuries and call-ups to the DII Huskies], but we played our hearts out.”
“That was the toughest game of the season by far,” Bilecki said. “They were very, very fast and they were big bodied. They took a toll on us. But it was a good game. We didn’t play stupid and we played our style of hockey. We hung with a team that’s [basically] ranked in the North, so it’s good.”
“Sunday we played very well,” Madonia said. “It was one of our better games this season. The score really wasn’t indicative of how the game went. … They played a style that was really similar to ours. They attacked off the rush a lot and moved the puck really well and fast. We were able to limit them to two goals for the first and second periods. We were in a bit of a hole, but it’s not like we weren’t getting any pressure. … In the third period, we were able to pull everything together and push the attack onto them, which considering it was our ninth period of the weekend, was impressive. We gave ourselves a chance to come back in the last few minutes.”
The Huskies finished the Showcase on a good note despite the loss and will now host Loyola University on November 20 and 21.
“Loyola is going to be another team that we’re going to have to work hard to win against,” Saunders said. “They’re definitely going to be one of the harder teams we play. We’re going to have to play a full 60 minutes like we did the last three games.”
“We have to come with the same mentality we came in for this whole weekend,” Tower said. “We have the opportunity to get a win, all we have to do is come ready, prove it and battle as hard as we can.”
“We still have to play 60 minutes,” Paulsen said. “We know that they’re a good team and if we don’t play a full 60 minutes, it’s going to definitely come back and bite us. I think we need to make sure to stay out of the penalty box because a team like that is going to really punish us on the penalty kill. Any opportunities that we’re given, we need to make sure that we capitalize on them.”
“Loyola is going to be another team like Indiana and Wisconsin-Platteville,” Madonia said. “They’re a ranked team [15th in the Pacific Region] and these are the kind of games that we’re going to need to win if we want to start to get respect through the DIII rankings. We have to play our game and not worry about what they’re doing.”
The Huskies and Loyola will face off at 8:30 p.m. on Friday and at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee.