NIU Hockey announces new assistant coaches

By Kim Wrona

7/28/14 – DeKalb, IL  There will be 3 new faces behind the benches for Northern Illinois University Hockey’s Division-II and Division-III teams this season. 

Former Huskie Brian Pickett will be the new assistant coach for the D-II team and former ACHA players Scotty Czarnik and Brian Hyken will be the new assistant coaches for the D-III team.

“Brian is a huge addition to the coaching staff,” said D-II head coach Chuck Rinaldo.  “He is a type of coach that will be able to pay attention to details and focus on specialty skills and special teams.”

Pickett posted 9 points (5 G, 4 A) in 28 games with the D-II Huskies last season.  3 of his 5 tallies came on the power play.  He also posted 2 game winning goals, which was tied for second on the team with Justin Rucinski; Brandon Niedziela led the team with 3.

“He obviously already has a connection with the returning players since he was their teammate last season and was considered a veteran guy in the locker room,” Rinaldo said.  “The guys called him Grandpa last year; now he can be Coach Grandpa.”

Pickett’s familiarity with the coaching styles of Rinaldo and assistant coach Mike Reporto will help him transition into his new role behind the bench.

“He will definitely be able to step right in as a coach knowing our coaching style and expectations since he played for us last season,” Rinaldo said.  “Even as a player last season he was sharing some thoughts and opinions with us and we were bouncing some ideas off of him on how we can get more out of the team.”

The returning players will have to get used to seeing their former teammate as a coach.

“The players will need to make some adjustments with Brian now that he will be behind the bench instead of suiting up and jumping on the ice with them,” Rinaldo said.  “Brian will also face some challenges at the beginning of the season establishing himself as a coach to some of his former teammates.  However, I don't see the transition being too difficult for anyone since he has a wealth of knowledge and the players will quickly be able to see how he can help them.”

While the new assistant coaches for the D-III team never played for NIU, their experience of playing in the ACHA will be valuable.  Czarnik played for Arizona State University’s D-I team and then joined Illinois State University’s D-II team from 2011-2014.  Hyken played for Bradley University’s D-III team.

Not only did both coaches play in the ACHA, but they have also interned for professional teams.  Czarnik completed an internship in hockey operations with the Chicago Blackhawks and Hyken interned for the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen for 2 seasons where he completed much of the team’s statistical analysis work.

“The experience [of playing in the ACHA] will be good to have on the bench and in the locker room,” said D-III head coach Nick Madonia.  “With both of them having dealt with the grinds of the long season, they will be able to pass on what they've learned.”

Madonia is entering his first full season as head coach for the D-III team.  Last season as interim head coach, he only had one assistant with him behind the bench.  Having 2 assistants this season will be a big asset to him and the team.

“I am excited to have the 2 assistants this season,” Madonia said.  “Hockey is a fast game and during games it's impossible to see everything that's going on, so having the extra set of eyes available is going to be huge for us this year. Czarnik also has so much experience as a goalie, it will be important in the development of our goalies to have him on the bench and on the ice during practices.”

With the coaching staffs situated, the attention now turns to tryouts and the upcoming season for NIU Hockey.

“Tryouts can't come fast enough,” Madonia said.  “All of us are ready to get things going and start the season up. I look forward to getting this new group of guys on the ice and getting to work with them and prepare them for a successful season.”

“I'm very excited for the season to get started,” Rinaldo said.  “I think we have a very strong recruiting class coming in and we have a solid core of returning players as well.  It will be crucial that we get in to game shape quickly and find the right chemistry to win some big games early in the season.  If all goes as planned we should have a very deep D-II roster and a much improved D-III roster.  I'm confident we will find success at D-II and I'm looking forward to seeing D-III take a big step forward this season.”

Tryouts begin at 7:20 p.m. on August 24 at Leafs Ice Centre in West Dundee.