Hockey preparing for final shot at victory before winter break

Sophomore+defenseman+Luke+Marks+manuevers+the+puck+around+John+Carroll+University+junior+forward+Tyler+Lamark+during+a+game+on+Sept.+16+at+Canlan+Ice+Sports+in+West+Dundee.+%28Beverly+Buchinger+%7C+NIU+Hockey%29

Courtesy NIU Hockey

Sophomore defenseman Luke Marks manuevers the puck around John Carroll University junior forward Tyler Lamark during a game on Sept. 16 at Canlan Ice Sports in West Dundee. (Beverly Buchinger | NIU Hockey)

By Alex Crowe, Senior Sports Reporter

DeKALB – The Huskies hockey team (0-16, 0-8 MCH) will look to enter winter break in the win column when they take on McKendree University (6-8, 4-4 MCH) in a two-game home series Friday and Saturday.

This weekend will be the teams’ first meeting of the season.

The Huskies are fresh off of Thanksgiving break, in which they were given the entire week off of hockey.

Sophomore defenseman Luke Marks said taking time away from the ice helped the team recover physically.

“A lot of the guys are pretty beat up,” Marks said. “We’ve had quite a few injuries and that really helps give some guys some much-needed rest.”

While the Huskies have had time to reset physically, the break gave them time to get their mind off hockey as well.

Junior forward Matt Martin described how taking a step back and not thinking about hockey helped loosen the team’s mindset, which Martin said allows them to play their best hockey.

“I think it’s good for the team,” Martin said. “It kind of loosened everybody up, which I think we need as a team because sometimes we put a little too much pressure on ourselves for no reason. Some of our best hockey that we’ve played, the state that we’ve been in, it’s just pretty relaxed.”

With the Huskies returning to the ice this week, Marks said the first day of practice allowed the team to shake the rust off before getting back into higher-paced drills.

“We got back, we had more of a skills session working on shooting and some five-on-five stuff,” Marks said. “Just trying to get the wheels back under the bus, get everybody’s hockey brain back in the mindset of practicing.”

While the first practice back was more of a light skate, Martin said the remaining practices will have more of an emphasis on game situations at a faster pace.

“A little more system based. Working on, you know, zone entries, D (defensive) zone, O (offensive) zone – things like that,” Martin said. “Today (Wednesday) is actually our more intense practice.”

McKendree University comes into the weekend riding a five-game winning streak, including a win against ranked Illinois State University.

Marks said his team must approach every game the same way and be razor-focused to end the 16-game skid.

“They’re (McKendree) a pretty good team. We can’t look at any team like they’re just going to be a win,” Marks said. “We have to take every team as seriously as say we played Jamestown or ISU. We just have to think worst-case scenario, they’re gonna be a good team and we have to play them like we can make no mistakes, because we really can’t.”

Martin said the team will be itching for payback after dropping a winnable game to McKendree last season.

“Last year, we were always pretty close. I remember them being, they’re a fast team,” Martin said. “There was a game I think we dropped to them that we should have won, so I’m sure everyone will be hungry for that.”

NIU and McKendree will clash in the first of a two-game series at 7:30 p.m. Friday, then finish the series at 5 p.m. Saturday at Canlan Ice Sports in West Dundee.

The Huskies will hold a free post-game skate with the team for all fans after Saturday’s contest, with a special guest appearance from Santa Claus.

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

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