Huskies end Nebraska road trip with back-to-back defeats


Courtesy NIU Hockey

Senior forward Nick Gonzalez (left) and senior defenseman Alec Porzondek greet each other before NIU’s first game of its series against Midland University on Oct. 14 at Canlan Ice Sports in West Dundee. The team plans to use its team-building opportunities from last weekend’s road trip against the University of Jamestown to help the Huskies get their first win of 2022 against Waldorf University this weekend. (Beverly Buchinger | NIU Hockey)

By Alex Crowe, Assistant Sports Editor

A disastrous first period doomed NIU Hockey in its final regular season matchup with the Midland University Warriors (5-17, 5-5 MCH), who downed the Huskies by a final score of 6-3 Saturday in Nebraska.

Saturday’s loss was the Huskies’ (2-22, 1-13 MCH) fourth straight and gave Midland a season-series sweep over NIU.

The Huskies struggled out of the gate.Goals from Midland freshman defenseman Jack Olson and junior forward Ryan Donovan gave the Warriors a 2-0 lead five minutes in.

NIU struck back on the power play with 6:49 left in the first period when a beautiful passing play – set up by senior forwards Rodahn Evans and Hunter Wahl – was buried by senior forward Nick Gonzalez to cut the deficit in half.

Gonzalez said making himself a target for Evans made the goal easy.

“We got the puck down low, and Rhodie (Rodahn Evans) was wide open in front,” Gonzalez said. “I kind of opened up for him in front, and he gave me a good pass back door, and I had the whole net open – and I would have been very disappointed if I missed that.”

Gonzalez’s goal was the only pressure NIU had in the first period. Midland sophomore defenseman Cody Shearer and senior forward Fletcher Chun each tallied before the end of the first period to give Midland a 4-1 lead after 20 minutes.

Vutci was pulled by head coach Brad Stoffers after Chun’s goal, and sophomore goaltender Grant Goodson took over between the pipes. Vutci was pulled after making six saves on 10 shots.

Goodson wasn’t surprised he was called upon based on how the game was going and described the difficulty of entering the game cold.

“Once a couple (goals) start going in you, kind of lock in your mental and you start thinking ‘well, you could get put in if another one goes in,’” Goodson said. “Coming in cold is never easy. You’re not already locked in, tracking is a little bit more difficult.”

In what the Huskies expected to be a winnable game, a 4-1 score after 20 minutes did not sit well with NIU’s coaching staff. Stoffers did not hold back discussing what went wrong for his team in the first period.

“Everything,” Stoffers said. “You spot them a three goal lead. I mean, you just can’t do that. I mean, we were just flat. Everything was flat. Just nothing. No energy, no urgency, no intensity – nobody wanted to play defense. Defending, you know, just standing around in the D (defensive) zone. I mean, just horrible. Awful. One of our worst periods all year.”

Gonzalez summed up the first period as a lack of motivation and emotion from the team.

“We didn’t really bring that intensity like we needed to,” Gonzalez said. “In the first period, they wanted it more than us and it showed – especially in the defensive zone. We weren’t playing our best hockey. We were just letting them skate around us.”

The second period started much like the first period. Just 2:48 in, Midland freshman forward Logan Wotton’s shot from the left circle beat Goodson to extend the Warriors’ lead to 5-1.

Emotions run high

Frustration boiled over for the Huskies after Wotton’s goal. Sophomore forward Brandon Weitzel was ejected from the game for shoving one of the linesmen 3:13 into the second period.

Stoffers was not thrilled with Weitzel’s lack of discipline at that moment.

“Unacceptable,” Stoffers said. “You can’t cross certain lines … He’s (Weitzel) a guy that plays with a lot of emotion …  It doesn’t even matter. You just can’t. You can just never do that.”

NIU picked up the pace after Weitzel’s ejection, finally spending time away from Goodson. The Huskies pressured Midland freshman goaltender Nahuel Veyan who turned away all nine Huskie shots in the second period. Goodson settled into the game and stopped 14 shots in the second period. The 5-1 score held heading to the third period.

The Huskies got the power play going 6:35 into the third period. Another passing play set up by Wahl and Evans and finished by Gonzalez cut the Midland lead to 5-2, but Chun responded with his second goal of the game – and third of the weekend – to reestablish Midland’s four-goal lead.

Midland took five served penalties in the third period, which included a five-on-three power play for NIU. The Huskies took advantage of the two-man advantage when the puck found its way to senior defenseman Austin Walny, whose slap shot sizzled past Veyan to get NIU back within three goals. Gonzalez got his third point of the night on the goal, and the Huskie power play went 3/10 on the day.

NIU peppered Veyan with 21 shots in the third period, but Walny’s goal stood as the last of the game to give Midland a 6-3 victory.

After an abysmal first period, NIU was able to hold Midland to two goals for the remainder of the game.

Goodson credited his team’s defensive improvement to talking more on the ice.

“I think we picked up a lot of, like, communication. I heard a lot of talk behind the net from our D men – were telling each other (to) reverse it and looking for each other off the turnovers in behind the net.” Goodson said.

The Huskies will be back on the ice next weekend for their final home series of the season against Drury University.

Heading into the final home series of the season – which includes senior night – Gonzalez put an emphasis on getting back to work and being motivated for the seniors’ last home series.

“This week in practice, we got to bring the intensity up,” Gonzalez said. “We know that this weekend is our senior night. It’s a big night for us – last home games, winnable games … You just got to come out and play your best.”

Friday’s game will welcome back NIU Hockey alumni, and Saturday’s game is senior night, where the team will be giving away a free team photo and will host a post game skate with the players.