Hockey drops quarterfinal matchup with McKendree to end season


Courtesy NIU hockey

Senior forward Hunter Wahl celebrates his goal with NIU hockey’s bench during its game against Drury University on Jan. 27. (Photo courtesy NIU hockey)

By Alex Crowe, Assistant Sports Editor

DeKALB – NIU hockey was bounced from the Midwest College Hockey (MCH) playoffs Friday, getting shut out by the McKendree University Bearcats by a final score of 7-0 in the quarterfinals. 

The Huskies (4-29, 1-20 MCH) end the season dropping its last seven games, and McKendree (13-12, 11-6 MCH) moves on to face Illinois State University in the MCH semi-finals. 


Friday was the final game for senior forwards Drake Gieseke, Nick Gonzalez, Hunter Wahl and Hunter Pierce, as well as senior defenseman Austin Walny. 

“We’re very proud of them,” head coach Brad Stoffers said. “Happy with everything they have put into the program. Wish we could have done better for them this year, but wish them the best going forward.” 

Wahl said going out with a loss hurts, but he can remain proud of his time at NIU.

“It was emotional,” Wahl said. “I played it (hockey) for 18 years of my life and to see it come to an end in that sort of fashion is always going to haunt me, at least for a little bit. But at the same time, keeping your head up because there is a lot of guys that look up to you, and you just got to make sure that you didn’t quit.”

The current senior class arrived at NIU during the 2019 season – cut short due to COVID-19. The players did not have a season in their sophomore year due to the pandemic. The group also went through many changes in leadership over their three seasons.

Wahl said those struggles made them stronger as a group and formed lifelong bonds.

“I couldn’t ask for better friends and better teammates,” Wahl said. “Obviously the outcomes weren’t what we wanted. But sometimes when you’re trying to build something (the hockey program), that’s the way she goes for the first couple years. The heart of the seniors to go out there and never quit, especially in some games where it (losing) was obvious … They’re a bunch of good dudes.” 

This group of seniors dealt with a lot of struggle before and during Stoffers’ time as head coach, which in his eyes makes them a group of leaders to be modeled. 

“Resiliency – that word kind of strikes me,” Stoffers said. “Any time they got knocked down, they come right back up … They put a lot into the program. They came in when it was elevated to D (Division) one, so they wanted to come here and change a program – to be part of the evolution of this thing – to be a driving force and foundation behind growth within the program of NIU hockey. So, just some high-character people.” 


The Huskies were down early in the game and couldn’t recover. The Bearcats led 3-0 after the first 20 minutes. 

Stoffers said the game was going according to plan until a two-minute span that saw McKendree score a short-handed goal, deflating the team. 

“It just all fell apart during that power play,” Stoffers said. “We had no sustained possession, nobody’s talking, no support. We might have had three or four turnovers just in that two-minute stretch, and that’s what led to the goal.”

Turnovers have hurt the Huskies all season, and Friday’s playoff game was no different.

“We didn’t control the puck well,” Wahl said. “Every time we tried to make a play that we thought was right, it was … not going our way.”


McKendree freshman winger Jonathan Davenport scored the short-handed goal that got the Bearcats going midway through the first period. The Bearcats scored two more goals in the final 10 minutes to take a 3-0 advantage into the second period. 

The Bearcats added goals from junior forward Brad Richardson and freshman forward Matias Alexandrov in the second period to extend the lead to 5-0 after 40 minutes.

Freshman forwards Rycol Davis and Kyle Manyunkuge sealed the game with goals in the third period to complete the 7-0 shutout win for McKendree. 


With his first season as head coach in the books, Stoffers said a lot of work needs to be done within the club to build a winning culture.

“I think there’s opportunity,” Stoffers said. “It’s just got to be built the right way – I’ve said that all year. There will be no excuses next year because I’ve got a full year to recruit. So, it’s on me to bring in the right people. And once we do that, we got to establish that culture.”


Having suited up in the black and red for the last time, Wahl hopes he helped instill a never-quit attitude at NIU.

“One thing I hope I left on the program, I mean, (I) just put it all out there,” Wahl said. “There’s nothing to lose. You got to go out and have fun, but you also have to try and play the most impactful way you can when you’re on the ice.”