Evans, Huskies smother Drury on senior night

NIU earns first series sweep


Beverly Buchinger | NIU Hockey

Member of NIU’s Division I hockey team celebrate during its season-opening match against John Carroll University on Sept. 16. (Beverly Buchinger | NIU Hockey)

By Alex Crowe, Assistant Sports Editor

WEST DUNDEE – A second straight big performance from senior forward Rodahn Evans propelled NIU Hockey to an emotional shutout win on senior night over Drury University (3-16, 3-14 MACHA) by a final score of 4-0.

After a four-point performance on Friday – including a hat trick – Evans recorded another three points in the Huskies’ (4-22, 1-13 MCH) second-straight win, helping his team to its first series sweep of the season.

Evans has switched between forward and defense in multiple games this season, and he said his big offensive weekend was a product of getting more involved offensively.

“I’ve been kind of lazy the last few weekends on the offensive side of things – playing too much defensively,” Evans said. “I realized if we wanted to get something going, you got to make it happen.”

Senior defenseman Austin Walny said a performance like Evans’ works as a positive influence for the rest of the team.

“He’s one of the best guys on the team. He knows what he’s doing, he’s really smart with the puck,” Walny said. “It kind of gives off that vibe to, like, the rest of the guys and it makes them want to be smarter and better hockey players.”

Head coach Brad Stoffers spoke highly of his captain’s performance and suggested that accolades are in order.

“I think he should be the NIU Athlete of the Week is what I think,” Stoffers said.

Other Huskie goals came from sophomore defenseman Luke Marks, Walny and freshman forward Cam Pathana.

Seniors’ final home stand

NIU held a pregame ceremony to honor its seven graduating seniors, with the players’ families taking the ice for a photo with their players. The seniors honored, in order, included forwards Drake Gieseke, Nick Gonzalez, Hunter Wahl, Hunter Pierce, defenseman Colin Brey, forward Randy Apter and Walny.

Walny, who has played for NIU since 2019, said seeing his family on the ice was extremely emotional for him.

“It made me want to cry,” Walny said. “I’m, like, winding down to the last few games and it just kind of, you know, it sucks. You’ve been playing hockey your whole life and now you’re kind of done, you know. But it was a good time. It was nice seeing my family and my girlfriend.”

Discipline deficiencies

The Huskies again struggled to stay out of the box late in the game, which allowed Drury multiple scoring opportunities and a chance to come back.

Despite his team going a perfect nine-of-nine on the penalty kill – including three different five-on-threes – Stoffers said playing undisciplined with the lead must be fixed or future results will not be in their favor.

“As we get into this last month of the season and playoffs, we’re not going to get away with stuff like that,” Stoffers said. “You can’t give teams five-on-three’s and expect that they’re not going to score. So I think we let … them in the game longer than they should have been with bad penalties and undisciplined play.”

Silent on the scoreboard

NIU held early pressure in Drury’s defensive zone in the first period, putting 17 shots on freshman goaltender Greyson Skirpan. Despite outshooting Drury 17-6 in the first period, the Huskies were unable to find the back of the net and both teams were held scoreless through the first 20 minutes.

Even though the Huskies had the majority of shots in the first period, Stoffers said the quality of scoring chances didn’t come from the high-danger areas.

“Playing a little bit soft and a little bit too perimeter, not getting pucks to the grade-A areas and shooting enough,” Stoffers said.

Finding a rhythm

Neither team found offense until 9:26 into the second period when Evans undressed Drury freshman forward Tyler Sillanpaa and sniped Skirpan on the far side for his 13th goal of the season and giving the Huskies a 1-0 lead.

Evans said he took advantage of a bad step by Sillanpaa to get around him and score.

“He (Sillanpaa) stepped up like I was going to dump it in, and so he opened his legs and I just slipped it right through,” Evans said. “The goalie was out to lunch. He (Skirpan) thought I was trying to … shoot it down low again. It was just easy bar down. Kid didn’t know where he was at.”

Evans’ goal brought his team to life in the second period. Pierce found a streaking Marks back door for his second goal of the season at 14:04 in to double the NIU lead. Just 45 seconds later, an Evans point shot was redirected by Walny and past Skirpan to push the NIU lead to 3-0. The goal was Walny’s fifth of the year and was the last of the middle frame to send NIU to the locker room up 3-0.

Pullquote Photo

It was everything I wanted.

— Senior defenseman Austin Walny on winning his senior night

After not finding any goals in the first period, Stoffers said the adjustment was to create more traffic at the net.

“You kind of saw the result in the second (period). We just put pucks on net, getting rebounds, getting guys there,” Stoffers said. “The result was three goals and we had twice as many grade-A chances there in the second.”

After the Huskies finally solved Skirpan, Evans said the team was able to relax and that led to more offense.

“The second that first goal went in we’re like ‘alright, we got a lead, we can do this, calm down,’” Evans said.

The Huskies allowed Drury to hang around, gifting five power plays in the third period. The NIU penalty kill fended off the Drury attack to keep them off the scoreboard. Pathana tallied his fifth goal of the season – assisted by Evans and Wahl – with just over five minutes remaining to seal a 4-0 win and NIU’s first series sweep of the season.

Trending up

Despite there still being some bumps in the road, Stoffers said the team sweeping the weekend series is a momentum booster going into the last three weeks of the season.

“I think there’s something to be proud of. I think there’s … momentum with this team – guys are starting to feel it,” Stoffers said. “There’s lots we still need to clean up, but yeah, I think the guys are confident.”

With Saturday being the final home game of the season, Walny summed up what getting the win on his senior night meant to him.

“It was everything I wanted,” Walny said. “I woke up this morning thinking ‘win.’ That’s all I wanted.”

Up next

The Huskies travel down south next weekend to take on the McKendree University Bearcats (8-11, 6-5 MCH) in the team’s second series of the season. NIU split the first series with the Bearcats, dropping the first game 6-1 and winning the second game 5-3.

The game can be watched via McKendree’s Great Lakes Valley Conference streaming network.