Hockey looks to play spoiler in regular season finale


Beverly Buchinger | NIU Hockey

Senior forward Hunter Wahl battles for the puck in the neutral zone against a Purdue University Northwest player during the Huskies’ match against the Pride on Oct. 14, 2022

By Alex Crowe, Assistant Sports Editor

DeKALB – NIU hockey wraps up its regular season when they travel to Bloomington to take on the rival No. 12 ranked Illinois State University Redbirds in a two-game series Friday and Saturday. 

Last time the Huskies (4-26, 1-17 MCH) met the Redbirds (23-7, 13-5 MCH), NIU dropped both games of the series by final scores of 10-1 and 5-0. 

The Huskies are currently on a four-game losing streak, most recently dropping a weekend series to Waldorf University in Minnesota. 

Two short-handed goals cost NIU in its weekend series against Waldorf. As a team who struggles to score, the Huskies are looking to clean up mistakes when they have the opportunity to score on the man-advantage. 

“We get a lot of our goals – a lot of our offense – on the power play,” freshman forward Evan Rzeszutko said. “I think we’re just trying to … keep it simple and just make the smart play – the right play – and not force things.”

Since ISU is a better team than Waldorf, senior forward Hunter Wahl expects the power play unit to be on its toes against the Redbirds’ high-pressure penalty kill.

“When you play a team (Waldorf) that’s a little bit bigger, slower, you think you have more time than you do. So, a few of those passes look like they’re going to get through and then they don’t,” Wahl said. “Going up against Illinois State, we know they’re fast (and) we know they’re going to pressure hard. So, I don’t think those same mistakes are going to happen.”

Illinois State had its six-game winning streak snapped last weekend, falling to the No. 8 ranked University of Jamestown by final scores of 6-1 and 4-2.  

Even though the odds are stacked against the Huskies against a high-end Redbirds squad, Rzeszutko said his team does hold one advantage. 

“They’re (ISU) a really strong team,” Rzeszutko said. “They’re going to overlook us for sure. Just about every team will overlook us … this is I think their last weekend too of games, so they’re probably just wanting to wrap it up (and) get ready for playoffs. And I think we’re ready to go. We’re going to be playing our best hockey this weekend.” 

ISU is celebrating its senior night on Saturday. Wahl said the team will be playing with a chip on its shoulder in a rink they’ve had recent success in.

“They picked us to be their last game on a senior night this year, which pisses me off,” Wahl said. “Every year I’ve been here, we’ve never not won at least one game at their rink. We always steal a game from ISU, so I hope we steal it on their senior night and ruin their night.” 

With the recent losses fresh in his mind, Wahl promised his and the team’s performance will be different. 

“Last weekend against Waldorf – as one of the leaders of the team and one of the kids I know a lot of kids look up to – I just don’t think I was as big a part of the game as I need to be,” Wahl said. “That will be changing this weekend.” 

The Huskies engage the Redbirds for the first game at 7 p.m. Friday, then finish the regular season at 7 p.m. Saturday at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington. 

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