Hockey bracing for rematch with No. 4 Jamestown


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)

DeKALB – The Huskies hockey team (2-18, 1-9 MCH) is back in conference play with the fourth-ranked University of Jamestown (13-5, 7-1 MCH) Jimmies making the trip from North Dakota to West Dundee for a two-game series Friday and Saturday.

NIU has won two of its last three games, but the latest win came at a cost. Sophomore defenseman Keaton Peters suffered a hand injury in Saturday’s win and will be out of the lineup for the Jamestown series.

In losing a top defenseman for the foreseeable future, junior goaltender Ben Vutci said the loss hurts but his team is capable of adapting.

“It is a huge blow for us,” Vutci said. “I have confidence in any of the guys that are back there. And for me, you know, they let me do my job – make my job easier.”

While no team wants injuries to occur, it can present an opportunity for some players to have expanded roles.

Junior forward Matt Martin said it can be a motivator for the rest of the team to elevate their game.

“It’s definitely a big blow losing him,” Martin said. “Honestly, just losing a guy makes everybody else kind of pick up their play a little because, you know, when you’re short you just have to pick it up. And especially losing Keaton to make up for him.”

The Huskies dropped both games to Jamestown in early November by final scores of 6-0 and 8-0. This weekend’s series will be the first time NIU faces an opponent they have already seen this season.

The Huskies have worked on their trap forecheck since they first used it in November. The trap is where defenders force attackers to one side of the neutral zone attempting to force a turnover before attackers can enter the NIU zone.

Vutci voiced the importance of implementing the trap against a top team.

“We had just implemented the trap, so it was kind of new for us. But it did work against them (Jamestown),” Vutci said. “It’s a really good system for us to run, and I think when we execute it, we do it very well.”

The Huskies will have to stop Jamestown’s high-powered offense, which has scored seven or more goals in six games this season.

Martin said that practice has mostly been defense-focused but also emphasized clean offensive zone entries.

“A lot of D (defensive) zone work,” Martin said. “Working on our neutral zone trap, a little bit of zone entry. A little bit of O (offensive) zone and just cycling, that kind of thing. But it’s been mostly defense-focused.”

With a top-five team coming to town, Martin laid out the team’s path to success.

“We know they’re really skilled – fast team. A lot of talent just throughout their lines,” Martin said. “Just trusting in our systems, trusting in each other. And we know even if a team is maybe a little more skilled than us … just beating them with will, win puck battles, win races, and that kind of thing. We’ll see the most success with that rather than trying to out-skill them.”

With the Huskies winning two of their last three games, Vutci said the team is looking forward to the opportunity to not only play against a top team but to make a statement.

“We have the taste of victory in our mouths right now. We don’t want to have a sour taste of a loss, especially two,” Vutci said. “We want to essentially show them like ‘hey, we didn’t come here to mess around.’ So, we’d really like to sneak one past them and, you know, maybe we still win maybe we don’t. But we’re gonna give it our best shot.”

The Huskies clash with the Jimmies for the first of the two-game series at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The teams finish with the second game at 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.