Seniors shine in home clash with Drury

Evans nets hat trick


Sean Reed

Junior forward Matt Martin (left) exits the ice with energy as senior forward Rodahn Evans continues down the ice near the end of the second period on Saturday. (Sean Reed | Northern Star)

WEST DUNDEE – In their final home series, NIU hockey seniors took center stage with an explosive offensive showing in the team’s 6-4 win over Drury University on Friday.

Senior forward Rodahn Evans tallied a hat trick plus an assist for NIU, with two of his goals coming in the first period just three minutes apart. Senior forward Hunter Wahl also scored a goal and had four assists – three in the first period –  in the win.

The Huskies (3-22, 1-13 MCH) erupted for four goals in the first period to snap its four-game skid and hand Drury (3-15, 3-14 MACHA) its fourth loss in its last five games.

Drury pushed late in the game to turn a 6-2 game into a 6-4 game. Head coach Brad Stoffers was not pleased with how his team allowed Drury to hang around.

“I think we kind of let them back in the game,” Stoffers said about his team’s overall performance. “They were never really in the game, but we gave them life for tomorrow.”

NIU’s penalty kill was efficient Friday, killing off eight of Drury’s nine power plays – three of which were five-on-three.

Despite taking nine served penalties, Evans wasn’t worried when his team had to kill what he thought was a bad power play.

“They (Drury) just don’t know how to move the puck,” Evans said. “There was no cross seams. It was just all perimeter. They worked it around, tried to shoot something stupid. I mean, it’s never going to work. We’re just going to block it and clear it … they just tried to play bush league hockey.”

With Friday’s game welcoming NIU Hockey alumni back to watch the game, the stands were more crowded than usual.

Head coach Brad Stoffers said his team used the buzz in the building to their advantage in the opening 20 minutes.

“It was really mostly our, just our guys really banding together and having great energy and excitement around the game,” Stoffers said. “We wanted to get back to playing the right way. Playing simple, playing fast, playing hard.”

The Huskies got the scoring started halfway through the first period. Freshman forward Cam Pathana found a loose puck on the weak side of Drury freshman goaltender Josh Robins and fired it home to give NIU a 1-0 lead.

Pathana’s goal was the first time the Huskies scored the first goal of the game all season – something senior defenseman Alec Porzondek said was a huge relief to the team.

“Everyone was excited because, you know, it hasn’t happened yet,” Porzondek said. “So, we were all waiting for it to happen. It finally happened and we were all excited.”

Pathana’s tally started a barrage of goals for NIU. Evans scored at 14:06 and 17:08 in – the second being a shorthanded goal – and Porzondek tallied at 18:26 in to give NIU a 4-0 lead after the first period.

Evans said his shorthanded goal was all about reading sophomore defenseman Owen McNamee’s body position, allowing him to make a move and finish at the net.

“I saw the guy (McNamee) open up with his bad hips like he was going to hit me, and you’re not going to touch me,” Evans said. “I just said ‘goodbye’ and then pulled it back through to the short side and the goalie was just out to lunch.”

The Huskies were able to flip the slow-start narrative that plagued them over the four-game skid, scoring four goals in the final 10 minutes of the first period.

Porzondek said a change in the start of practice contributed to Friday’s explosive start.

“The first 15 minutes of practice we just played a little scrimmage game so we got everybody in the right mindset that, ‘hey, when we hit the ice in that first 15 minutes, it needs to be hard,’” Porzondek said.

Drury found its offense at 9:03 when sophomore forward Tyler Caine’s shot beat NIU sophomore goaltender Grant Goodson off the rush.

Penalty trouble started for NIU after Caine’s goal. Four penalties were served by the Huskies, including Drury’s second of three different five-on-threes. Goodson, who made 25 saves in the game, and the penalty-killing units held off the Drury power play to take a 4-1 lead into the second intermission.

Caine’s goal halted NIU’s attack, and the Huskie penalties pinned them in their defensive zone. Evans said going up by multiple goals and the team’s habit of playing poorly in the second period caused them to take their foot off the gas.

“It was the first time really leading in a while – like leading by a lot. So, a lot of guys did get complacent,” Evans said. “We get outscored every game in the second period this whole year. I don’t think we’ve ever won a second period. So, it’s definitely something we need to work on.”

Porzondek said the team’s mindset for the second period caused them to slow down.

“We came in there thinking, you know, it was going to be another cakewalk coming out of the second period,” Porzondek said. “It definitely showed. We were flat-footed and … we were being lazy.”

NIU found its legs early in the third period. Freshman forward Evan Rzeszutko found a streaking Wahl with a pass, and Wahl backhanded the puck past Robins to give NIU a 5-1 lead 2:40 in and Wahl his fourth point of the night.

Drury responded six minutes later with a goal from freshman forward Cody Lourenco to cut NIU’s lead back to three goals. Evans completed the hat trick – the goal again assisted by Wahl for his fifth point of the game – a minute later to regain the four-goal lead. Caine and freshman forward Louis Fournier scored in the final 30 seconds before the Huskies skated away with a 6-4 win.

Stoffers made clear the adjustments his squad needs to make going forward.

“Play a full 60 (minutes) and stay disciplined,” Stoffers said. “That’s really all it comes down to. When it’s five-on-five, we’re a much better team.”

Up next

The Huskies finish the series with Drury at 5 p.m. Saturday at Canlan Ice Sports in West Dundee. The game will be the final home game of the season for NIU.

Saturday is senior night for NIU, and the team will be giving away a free team photo as well as hosting a free post-game skate with the team.

The game will be streamed on the NIU Hockey YouTube channel.