By Kim Wrona
10/16/13—DeKalb, IL The University of Illinois made the trek up to Fox Valley Ice Arena to face-off against the D2 Huskies last week for Northern Illinois’ first ever Pink in the Rink weekend as the Huskies raised awareness and money for research needed to cure breast cancer.
Friday night’s tilt featured numerous grade A scoring chances for NIU early on. Before the 10 minute mark of the period, senior forwards Nick Remley and Mark Greenberg hit the crossbar on their respective breakaway chances and freshman forward Tyler Sukel wasn’t able to convert on a tip chance from right out in front of sophomore Illini goalie Lucas Lambert, who made a fantastic save to keep the game scoreless.
U of I’s Danny Hendrickson opened up the scoring after NIU’s missed opportunities at the 12 minute mark of the opening frame. Fortunately for NIU, junior center Justin Rucinski tallied a beautiful goal where he walked around the Illini defender and scored while falling down 33 seconds later to tie the game up at 1.
Senior forward Nick Leon gave NIU the lead before the 2 minute mark of the 2nd period with an unassisted marker for his 5th goal of the season. U of I tied it up about 3 minutes later and took the lead with a power play goal with 35.5 seconds to go in middle frame.
The missed chances at the beginning of the game really came back to bite the Huskies during this contest.
“Not capitalizing on our opportunities on Friday was a big issue for us,” head coach Chuck Rinaldo said. “I give a lot of credit to their goalie for playing an outstanding game, but we should have buried a lot more pucks. Any time you don't take advantage of your opportunities at home during the first game of a weekend series it can be a recipe for disaster. It gives the visiting team a chance to settle in, gain momentum and take the crowd out of the game. When we weren't scoring, we started to stray from our systems and extend ourselves beyond our capabilities which caused us to struggle for most of the night on Friday.”
Leon was able to tie the game up at 3 for the Huskies with 7:41 left in the third period. The game went into overtime and then a shootout where U of I ended it in two rounds as they got two pucks past NIU junior goalie Alex Hare; Leon and Sukel weren’t able to convert for the home squad, which gave the visitors the 4-3 victory.
Saturday’s contest started where Friday’s left off: U of I scored the opening tally, courtesy of junior forward Anthony Altosino. Leon came up big for the Huskies again as he tied the game up with 11:44 remaining in the first period. 20 seconds later, Rucinski tallied his 9th goal of the season with a power play marker to give NIU the 2-1 lead.
NIU took the lead for good with a shorthanded goal from sophomore defenseman Troy Heurlin. Senior forward Joe Boris set him up with a nice pass on an odd man rush. Rucinski added his second of the game with 5:09 left in the sandwich stanza for his 10th marker of the year.
Including his assist in the second period, Boris had a team high 9 assists, but had yet to crack the scoresheet this season. That changed at 4:06 of the 3rd period as he tapped in his first goal of the season while the Huskies were on a power play.
Boris made it 6-2 NIU with 1:15 remaining in regulation as he tallied a shorthanded, empty net goal to seal the win for the Huskies.
“I was very happy to see Boris get a couple of goals on Saturday,” Rinaldo said. “He's an amazing playmaker who has great patience with the puck and he's always making things happen around the net. He's definitely one of the best passers in the league and he sees the entire ice so well. I know he will continue to tally up the assists but I'm hoping his two goals will motivate him to shoot the puck more. He has a great shot.”
Grabbing the latter half of the back-to-back games was huge for the Huskies.
“Although it's still early in the season, we treated Saturday like a do or die game” Rinaldo said. “We needed to get back on track and make a big statement about our capabilities as a team and show everyone that Friday was simply a bad night for us. Every game is so crucial for the first regional ranking that will be coming out later this month and we need to hope that our slip up on Friday doesn't come back to bite us.”
With one win in hand, Pink in the Rink was a success for NIU Hockey as an organization as $3,091 was raised for the Susan G. Komen foundation, with a lot of help from the postgame jersey auction on Saturday night.
“I think Pink in the Rink went great!” Rinaldo said. “We had a good crowd for both games and we were able to raise a lot of money for a great cause. It's not often that you hear about hockey players enjoying wearing pink but the boys were very proud to be rocking their pink jerseys this weekend. I definitely think this is something we will do again and I hope that we can continue to grow the event and raise a lot more money.”
Now, it’s off to Florida for the Huskies as they are set to take on Florida Gulf Coast University at 8:30 pm on Friday and Saturday nights.
“We definitely gained some confidence from our win on Saturday and hopefully it will help us when we get down to Florida,” Rinaldo said.