Huskies subdued by Waldorf in weekend series


Beverly Buchinger | NIU Hockey

Senior defenseman Alec Porzondek makes a breakout pass during NIU hockey’s game against Purdue University Northwest on Oct. 14.

By Alex Crowe, Assistant Sports Editor

FEB. 10


ALBERT LEA – Costly turnovers and failure to convert on scoring opportunities catalyzed NIU hockey’s 7-1 defeat to the Waldorf University Warriors Friday in Minnesota. 

With the loss, The Huskies’ (4-25, 1-16 MCH) losing streak climbs to three games, and helps the Warriors (12-14-2, 6-8-2 MCH) bounce back from a 5-1 loss to the University of Jamestown last Saturday. 

The Huskies gave up three goals in a 2:04 span during the second period, which put the game out of reach for NIU. Senior defenseman Alec Porzondek said the game was going well in the first half, but mistakes caused the score to snowball against them. 

“We had good spurts where we looked like we dominated,” Porzondek said. “Then we also had three (or) four minute disasters that just one bad play and it just piles on.”



NIU had a hard time taking care of the puck Friday, which helped pad Waldorf’s early lead. 

An offensive zone turnover by junior forward Matt Martin led to Waldorf’s second goal, scored by senior forward Wade Auger in the first period. Another attacking zone turnover by sophomore defenseman Luke Marks during a second period power play gave Warriors sophomore forward Tyler Nelson a breakaway, who scored a short-handed goal on the play. 

“You got to make plays when it’s time – when it’s your turn to make a play,” head coach Brad Stoffers said. “We didn’t do that.” 

In order to clean up crippling turnovers, Porzondek said the team needs to settle down and simplify the game. 

“We just got to slow it down a little bit,” Porzondek said. “We’re just rushing it all, and they (the team) think, ‘oh man the second it hits my stick, I got to pass it right away’ instead of taking a stride, looking up (and) making the correct play.”



NIU had its share of scoring chances, recording 20 shots on Warriors junior goaltender Nelson Schiller through the first two periods. Despite those scoring opportunities, the Huskies only mustered one power play goal by senior forward Rodahn Evans through the first two periods. 

Getting pucks to the high-danger areas of the ice became a point of emphasis for NIU in trying to solve Schiller. 

“It’s more of a shot’s perspective – on where the shots are coming from – they’re coming from outside the top of the circles or outside of the dots,” Porzondek said. “If we want to get more scoring opportunities, we have to get the shots inside the hash marks, inside the crease, top of the circles and dots. Those are the scoring opportunities that we need to find.”

Goals have been hard to come by in a down year for the Huskies, and Friday was no exception. With the team having low confidence on the offensive side of the puck, Evans said finishing scoring opportunities comes down to the will and the belief that they can score. 

“We just got to get kids to want to score,” Evans said. “If you want to put it in, you got to look through the goalie. Not at the goalie …  It’s a mentality thing. Half the room believes that they’re not good enough to score at this level – it’s like, you’re here.” 



Waldorf opened the scoring just 4:14 into the game when Nelson found a loose puck in front of Huskie junior goaltender Ben Vutci and slid it across the goal line for the early lead. Auger doubled the lead with just under two minutes remaining in the first period off Martin’s turnover to secure a 2-0 Waldorf lead after 20 minutes. 

NIU peppered Schiller with shots, but the only goals came via Nelson and Auger’s second goals of the night, as well as a goal from sophomore forward Jacob Sundgren during the Warriors’ second-period goal explosion. 

Evans tallied his 14th goal of the season as NIU’s lone marker with just under five minutes remaining in the middle period, but Warriors’ senior forward Zak Jimenez answered 1:32 later to extend Waldorf’s lead to 6-1 after two periods. 

The Warriors added one more goal courtesy of junior forward Jacob Lindblom to seal a 7-1 series-opening victory. 

With another matchup against the Warriors looming, Stoffers said being relentless deep in the offensive zone to create pressure on Waldorf’s defense is the key to success in Saturday’s series-finale.

“Playing them beneath the goal line – cycling and give-and-go plays,” Stoffers said. “Wear them down and utilize some of our speed against a weak D (defensive) core to create more (scoring) chances for us.”


FEB. 11

Despite a stellar performance from Vutci, a short-handed goal against the Huskies was the difference in NIU hockey’s Saturday afternoon loss to the Waldorf University Warriors by a final score of 2-1 in Albert Lea, Minnesota. 

The Huskies’ (4-26, 1-17 MCH) losing streak hit four games with the loss, and handed the Warriors’ (13-14-2, 7-8-2 MCH) a season-series sweep over NIU. 

In spite of the result, NIU gave a much better performance than Friday’s 7-1 blowout.  Vutci praised his team for turning in a solid game after a tough start to the weekend. 

“We battled back after a tough loss yesterday (Friday) and really got our feet back under us,” Vutci said. “There were stretches where we dominated the game. So, it was a much better effort.”



Vutci had a great performance after Friday’s tough outing, stopping 34 of the Warriors’ 36 shots. Vutci also held Waldorf scoreless on a two minute five-on-three power play late in the first and into the second to keep his team in front. Though the team eventually lost, Vutci made multiple high-quality saves to keep NIU within striking distance.

Vutci said that a quote from his favorite professional goaltender helped him rebound from the previous rough game. 

“My favorite goalie Carey Price just said ‘you can’t get too high on your highs and too low on your lows,’” Vutci said. “You can’t really dwell on the past as a goalie and you can’t really dwell on the future. You got to be right in the moment, and that’s just what I tried to approach the game as today.”

As for the team around Vutci, it didn’t take a professional to see its goaltender’s outstanding performance.

“He (Vutci) was absolutely amazing,” Marks said about Vutci’s performance. “He made every single save that he was supposed to tonight, and he almost made a save on both of those goals as well.”

Vutci acknowledged one of his top defenders for helping make his job easier.

“Shout out to Luke Marks for blocking another 100 shots today,” Vutci said. 



Short-handed goals have been an issue of late for NIU, allowing three short-handed goals in its last eight games. The Huskies had six power plays during the game, but the only offense that came from those advantages was a Waldorf junior forward Morgan Sweeney short-handed goal 9:06 into the second period, which ended up being the game winning goal. 

Stoffers said the power play unit didn’t do itself any favors when it came to simplifying the game, and it played a large factor in both losses this weekend.

“When you … try to be too cute with the puck and you try to make passes through traffic, you’re going to end up giving up goals,” Stoffers said. “That’s what we saw a little bit this weekend, unfortunately.”

Marks echoed his coach’s analysis of the power play, and said the short-handed goals are a result of players looking for plays that aren’t available. 

“We’re just kind of forcing it a little too much,” Marks said. “We’re not making the easy passes to move it wide and move it faster. We’re just trying to make these too-intrusive passes through people’s legs and it’s just not working out.” 



The Huskies got the scoring started late in the first period when Evans deked out Warriors sophomore goaltender Jordan Berschiminsy off a two-on-one rush and slid the puck into the net for his 15th goal of the season.

Waldorf evened the score just under six minutes into the second period on a goal by junior forward Austin Mood-Flagg. The Warriors grabbed the eventual game-winning, short-handed goal from Sweeney just over three minutes later to give Waldorf a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes. 

NIU desperately searched for the equalizer, but a failed late-period power play and 12 third-period saves by Berschiminsky helped Waldorf escape with a tightly contested 2-1 win. 



With only one series left before playoffs, Marks said Saturday’s good effort showed that they can play good hockey this late in the year and that the team will continue grinding together through its struggles. 

“None of us are going to give up on each other. We’re all going to fight until the very last buzzer at the end of the game,” Marks said. “Everybody’s kind of been in-fighting a little bit … this game kind of put that to where we can show each other (that) we’re all here for each other.” 



The Huskies close out the regular season next weekend against the No. 12 ranked Illinois State University Redbirds at 7 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington. 

Both games will be streamed on the Illinois State hockey YouTube channel.