Hockey set to defend home against ranked Illinois State

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Courtesy NIU Hockey

NIU junior goaltender Ben Vutci kneels on the ice during a game against Midland University on Oct. 14. Vutci surrended four goals in NIU’s home matchup with the Waldorf University Warriors on Friday, resulting in him getting pulled in the first period in favor of freshman goaltender Jacob Piros (Beverly Buchinger | NIU Hockey)

By Alex Crowe, Sports Reporter

DeKALB – NIU hockey (0-14, 0-6 MCH) looks to end its 14-game losing streak against the Illinois State University Redbirds (12-2-2, 7-2-1 MCH) in a two-game home series Friday and Saturday. 

The Huskies have struggled to find an identity during this losing streak, and the team decided to take action.

Sophomore defenseman Keaton Peters said a meeting the team held after Saturday’s loss to Waldorf on changes the team needs to make was beneficial and allowed them to hear multiple ideas for potential changes. 

“We had a meeting after the game, and obviously after another tough loss,” Peters said. “It was mainly just everyone kind of going around the room saying what you think needs to change and just everyone throwing out ideas. It’s nice hearing from some guys that you usually don’t hear from.”

Senior forward Hunter Wahl said the meeting was a way to hold everyone accountable and ensure the team sticks together.

“Accountability. That’s probably going to be the keyword,” Wahl said. “Just accountability throughout the entire program. Whether that’s starting from the captains all the way down until the goalies … Accountability on our team is going to be huge because when you’re on a losing team, it’s really easy to point the finger at the guy next to you instead of looking at yourself in the mirror.”

After struggling to score on the power play in multiple games early in the season, the team turned a corner last weekend and scored five power-play goals in their previous two games.  

Peters said simplicity and teamwork have contributed to the success of the power play. 

“We’ve been trying to get more shots when we get some time and just try to put the puck on net and not be too fancy,” Peters said. “Not that many cross-crease passes. Just shoot the puck and then everyone go to the net – try to get some dirty goals rather than trying to get some highlight play.”

Wahl credits recent success to both power play groups finally having time to build chemistry and trust as a unit.

“It really doesn’t matter what sport you play. Chemistry is going to be your most important aspect,” Wahl said. “There’s a trust factor in there too. I mean, we’re 14 games in and we’re starting to realize who can do it and who can’t. When you’re in the position on the game to make the right play and there’s a guy that you trust on the other side, it’s a lot easier to feel free to give him that puck.” 

With a talented ISU team coming to town this weekend, Wahl emphasized the impact winning this weekend would have for the team.

“It really doesn’t matter if we’re playing a top 25 team in the country or the worst team in the country right now,” Wahl said. “Any win would be insane. Just a confidence booster.” 

Peters wants the team to keep their focus internal rather than focus on their opponent.

“Stick to doing us,” Peters said. “Cause chaos out there, work your butt off and run the systems properly and whatever happens, happens. Getting a win would be huge.” 

Off the heels of their team meeting, Wahl said he is confident a brand new Huskies hockey team will come to play this weekend. 

“We had a good sit down – all three coaches and the entire team – had a good conversation in the locker room after last game,” Wahl said. “I think we beat out a lot of good answers and I think there’s a new team coming to play this Friday.”

The Huskies clash with Illinois State at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday at Canlan Ice Sports in West Dundee. 

Students receive free admission with their OneCard, and general admission is $5.

Both games will be streamed on the NIU hockey YouTube channel.