NIU’s win drought continues after sweep by Redbirds

Huskies head into Thanksgiving break winless

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Courtesy NIU Hockey

NIU freshman forward Cam Pathana handles the puck against a Purdue University Northwest player during a hockey game on Oct. 14 at Canlan Ice Sports in West Dundee. (Beverly Buchinger | NIU Hockey)

By Alex Crowe, Sports Reporter

WEST DUNDEE – NIU hockey (0-16, 0-8 MCH) continued its losing streak Saturday, falling in the second of a two-game home series against Illinois State University (14-2-2, 9-2-1 MCH) by a final score of 5-0.

The shutout loss was the Huskies’ eighth straight conference defeat, and 16th loss in a row overall.

Head hockey coach Brad Stoffers said the Huskies put together a better effort Saturday than Friday.

“I thought our guys played hard, honestly. Just had a goal to play the right way,” Stoffers said. “Continue to block shots, play hard, out-will the other team as far as when it comes to winning battles, winning races and put more pucks on net. I thought through two periods – 14 grade A (scoring) chances, 20 total shots – that’s more offensive output that we’ve had in any two-period stretch all season.”

The teams traded chances throughout the first period, with Huskie junior goaltender Ben Vutci keeping ISU off the scoreboard. Vutci finished the game with 38 saves.

ISU got off and running on the power play when junior forward Joe Rascia rifled a puck past Vutci off a faceoff with 0.1 seconds remaining in the first period.

Stoffers said that in order to be a successful team, they cannot give up goals at the end of a period that kill the confidence built up from that period.

“Those are momentum killers and builders,” Stoffers said. “If you can score, it builds momentum. If you get scored against, it kills any momentum you had from the period. So, we got to clean that up if we want to be a good hockey team. Those are things that good teams just don’t let happen mentally.”

Freshman forward Cam Pathana said the team had a mental reset to focus on the remainder of the game after giving up the late first period goal.

“We knew that we played a great period, and we knew that we were on them the whole time, and we knew that that was a fluke goal,” Pathana said. “When we came back in the locker room, there were some kids that were pissed off, and there was kids that we just had to calm down. We decided to regroup, reset and we just had to remember that we just played one of the best first periods against this team.”

The Huskies’ regroup didn’t stop ISU. Two goals from freshman forward Carson Hilt and a power play goal from senior forward Trevor Hilt put ISU ahead 4-0 heading to the third period.

NIU’s special teams took a step back Saturday. The Huskie power play failed to convert for the first time in three games, and the penalty kill successfully killed only one of ISU’s four power plays.

Stoffers said the power play’s slow start early in the game put them in a hole, and it was too late when the unit finally got rolling.

“We started a little bit slow early. Just not a ton of continuity and support from one another,” Stoffers said. “I thought especially the first power play group did much better towards the end of the game, and they started to get some good looks.”

Pathana said Saturday’s special teams struggles came down to a lack of execution.

“We had a lot of chances, but it just didn’t go our way today,” Pathana said. “We had the one goal yesterday (Friday) that went our way. We had a little more times with special teams which gave us a little more mistakes to be made, you know? We had our chances, we just couldn’t finish.”

The Huskies couldn’t find the net in the third period, and ISU added one more goal midway through the period to seal the 5-0 win.

Despite the defeat, Stoffers commended his team’s effort against a tough ISU squad.

“I thought it was a good effort,” Stoffers said. “It’s a good team on the other side, top 15 team. I thought we hung with them for a period and a half, two periods. It’s a pretty good effort from our guys.”

With Thanksgiving break coming this week for NIU, Pathana said the break will give players a chance to stop thinking about hockey for a while and allow them to return to the ice motivated.

“Right now … all we think about is we’re only going to hockey every day,” Pathana said. “This one-week break is going to reset everyone and just make them hungry to come back and want to win games.”

The Huskies are back in action on Dec. 2 when they take on McKendree University in a two-game home series at 7:30 p.m. at Canlan Ice Sports in West Dundee.