Hockey ends regular season with back-to-back losses


Courtesy NIU hockey

NIU hockey’s starting lineup stands on the ice for the national anthem before its game against Illinois State on Feb. 17 (Photo courtesy NIU hockey)

By Alex Crowe, Assistant Sports Editor

FEB. 17

DeKALB – Another lackluster first period provided the No. 12 ranked Illinois State University Redbirds all the offense it needed to crush NIU hockey by a final score of 10-2 Friday.

The Huskies’ (4-27, 1-18 MCH) losing streak extended to five games with the loss and gave the Redbirds (24-7, 14-5 MCH) its third win in as many games this season over NIU.


NIU spent most of the first period in its defensive zone, surrendering four goals on 15 ISU shots – putting the game out of reach for the Huskies. 

“Our effort in the first period was unacceptable,” head coach Brad Stoffers said. “We didn’t win any races to the puck – no battles. Our D (defensive) zone, they were slicing us like bread. I mean, it was just getting beat to the middle of the ice, letting guys cut off our backs, losing track of guys. Just not moving our feet, no support. Everything you could think of that’s bad hockey, we did in the first.”

Sophomore forward Jay Kliment said the team lacked the energy to start the game, leading to a breakdown of its game plan. 

“We had no bench energy,” Kliment said. “We weren’t really in the zone … We weren’t playing, putting the body on, tying guys up, setting up the trap.” 


The Huskies bounced back from the poor first period and were able to outshoot the Redbirds 13-11 in the second period. Goals from senior forward Rodahn Evans and Kliment cut the Redbird lead to 6-2. 

In a game where NIU started off poorly, Stoffers commended his squad for its ability to keep playing hard and put a very good ISU team on its heels in the second period. 

“Proud of the guys for how they came into the second,” Stoffers said. “We regrouped – it was a tight period until we gave up the goal at the end … we really controlled the pace I think five-on-five in the second period – at least for parts of the game in the second part of the period. So good bounce back.”

Kliment said the team came out of the first intermission with a lot more energy, and that translated to better on-ice results. 

“We were more aggressive to the puck. Definitely started winning races (and) passing the puck more.” Kliment said.


The Redbirds got the scoring started less than two minutes into the game on a goal by  junior forward Mike Sliwinski. ISU saw more success in the first 20 minutes, with goals from junior forwards Cade Janecke and Tony Campise and senior forward Trevor Hilt pushing the ISU lead to 4-0 after the first period. 

ISU extended the lead to 6-0 in the second period thanks to power play goals from freshman forward Joe Gulino and Campise. The Huskies responded on Evans’ 16th goal of the year and Kliment’s second goal of the season to cut ISU’s lead to 6-2, forcing a Redbird timeout. 

Kliment had not scored since the teams’ second series of the season against DePaul University in September and said finally putting one in the net was a relief. 

“It was great,” Kliment said. “I’ve been trying to pop one in for the whole season … So, it felt very good. Get the monkey off the back.”

The Huskies kept up the pressure and had more scoring opportunities, but the only goal the rest of the second period came from junior defenseman Matthew Garcia with 21 seconds left to give ISU a 7-2 lead heading to the final period. 

10 penalties combined from both teams contributed to a back-and-forth third period, but the only offense came from ISU. Hilt and Gulino each scored their second goal of the game, and forward Jackson Gram added one more to secure a 10-2 victory. 


Despite the big loss, Stoffers said even though ISU is a very talented team, there is a weakness his team can benefit from for Saturday’s season finale. 

“They got a really good team, but their weakness is their D (defense),” Stoffers said. “We need to exploit that by continuing to get pucks deep and beat them wide on rushes … Keep pucks down in their end because we had a lot of D-zone time today (Friday). So, we need to keep pucks going forward – just chip it out (and) be simple.”


FEB. 18

Lack of execution on the penalty kill and not finishing scoring chances hurt NIU hockey in its regular-season finale loss to the Illinois State University Redbirds by a final score of 6-1 Saturday. 

The Huskies (4-28, 1-19 MCH) extended its losing streak to six games and sealed a one-win season in conference play with the loss, and handed the Redbirds (25-7,15-5 MCH) a regular season series sweep over NIU. 

Hilt scored a hat trick Saturday, raising his season goal total to 28. 

The penalty kill was a major weakness in the Huskies’ performance Saturday, killing just three of ISU’s six power plays. Two of the Redbird power play goals came in the first two periods – the third power play goal coming just under five minutes into the third period. The goals were the difference in the 4-1 score midway through the third period.  

“We just didn’t shift too well,” freshman forward Evan Rzeszutko said. “We’d have one guy go up to block the shot and then no one would slide across and fill in … We leave one, maybe two guys wide open.”

Huskie senior defenseman Alec Porzondek said missing blocks gave ISU too many looks at NIU’s net. 

“We missed a couple blocks that we would normally make,” Porzondek said. “I missed one or two and then we had a couple other guys that (the puck) skim by the pad.”

The Huskies had scoring opportunities, putting 26 shots on Redbird sophomore goaltender Brendan Donovan. The only tally came courtesy of Porzondek, his fifth of the season. 

Stoffers said the lack of scoring was due to his team taking too many low-quality shots.

“Most of our shots were just from the perimeter,” Stoffers said. “Just got to get to the grade-A areas more. The more grade-A chances you get, the more goals you’re going to score. I thought their goalie did what he needed to do, but we didn’t challenge him a lot from high-percentage scoring areas.”

The game started even as both teams exchanged scoring chances. Senior defenseman Anthony Salemi got ISU off and running with just under four minutes left in the first period with a power play goal. The Huskies responded 1:30 later on a power play goal by Porzondek to even the score at 1-1 heading to the second period. 

The second period saw the teams continue to trade scoring opportunities, but the only goals came off Redbird sticks. Sophomore defenseman Mason Perri and Hilt each tallied in the second period to bring ISU’s lead to 3-1 after 40 minutes. 

The Redbirds ran away with the game in the third period, putting three goals into the Huskie net. Two of ISU’s third period goals came from Hilt to complete the hat trick and helped seal a 6-1 win for ISU. 


With the conclusion of the regular season, the Huskies will face the McKendree University Bearcats in the quarterfinals of the MCH playoffs. Rzeszutko said the team will take confidence into playoff weekend knowing they put together a solid effort against a top 15 ISU team. 

“That gives us a lot of jump,” Rzeszutko said. “To play a really good team and play well against them – even though it didn’t fall in our favor – a lot of moral victories.”

Now that the playoffs are here, Stoffers hopes the do-or-die stakes of the seniors’ final weekend give them the boost they need to win. 

“One guaranteed game left,” Stoffers said. “Good group of seniors that’s put a lot into this – done what’s asked of them in a tough year. So, we know they’re going to be playing hard. Guys are going to have to rally around them.”

The Huskies travel to Fremont, Nebraska to take on the Bearcats in the quarterfinals of the MCH playoffs at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Sidner Ice Arena. If the Huskies win Friday, they will play in the semifinals Saturday, with the championship Sunday. 

The game will be streamed by host Midland University on its StretchLive channel.