Northern Star




Northern Star

Northern Illinois University’s student news organization since 1899


Ensure student journalism survives. Donate today.

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Hockey’s new Huskies aim for culture shift

Stoffers’ new additions looking to aid in building a winning culture
Courtesy NIU hockey
Freshman defenseman Jim Franklin lines up for a face off during NIU hockey’s inter squad scrimmage on Aug. 18. NIU hockey’s first game is on Sept. 15 against Kent State University. (Photo courtesy of NIU hockey)

DeKALB – There were no signs of NIU hockey’s disappointing four-win 2022-2023, with smiles all around Canlan Ice Sports during the team’s training camp from Aug. 14-18.

Head coach Brad Stoffers had a busy summer of recruiting players to help usher in a winning culture, adding eight freshmen with junior hockey experience to NIU’s oldest club. 


Making the transition from junior hockey to the college environment can come with uncertainty and uncomfortability.

That transition has been easy for freshman forward Robbie Zimmerman, who is moving to NIU from the Valley Jr. Warriors of the Eastern Hockey League in Massachusetts.

“Coming in here as a freshman now, I feel like I just fit in right away and know all the guys,” Zimmerman said. “Everybody takes you under their wing like you’re part of the family already. It’s been very nice being here.”

The new players got their first taste of NIU during a fierce week-long training camp. For freshman defenseman Jim Franklin, the intense atmosphere came as a pleasant surprise. 

“I feel like we’re alive,” Franklin said. “I didn’t know how serious of a team we were going to be when I came here. It’s just blown me away with how much everybody’s determined to win this year. We are all buying in … it’s a great place to be.”


Franklin and Zimmerman are among freshmen with junior hockey experience, joining forwards Walker Smith, Jeff Shirkey and Micah Maldonado, defensemen Ethan Koval and Nick Castillo and goaltender Caleb Cross. 

Entering as one of the players with plenty of juniors experience (52 games), Zimmerman expects to be a force teams hate dealing with. 

“I definitely think I can have an impact in the playmaking abilities,” Zimmerman said. “Every minute and every shift you play, you got to play like it could be your last and I think with that mentality that all of us could put together a good group.”

Coming in from high level competition, Franklin expects this freshman class to have an immediate and future impact in the on-ice product.

“We want to go out there and we want to score goals, get assists – we want to win games,” Franklin said. “We want to come out here and we want to create something that can get us notoriety I’d say and help us build the program even bigger.”

The impact of the freshman class doesn’t end on the ice. Franklin emphasized that a healthy locker room built on trust that the new players will help establish is key in the Huskies’ turnaround this season and beyond. 

“We want to be great locker room guys,” Franklin said. “We want to be able that if you need help from any of us in the next year, two years, you’ll be able to look up to us and know that we’ll help you no matter what.”


Zimmerman, Franklin and the rest of the freshman class come to the team with a heavy weight placed upon them, as they are expected to play a major role in the start of a turnaround from four wins last year. 

The trust placed on the group of freshmen to turn the team around has only instilled confidence in them. 

“It makes me feel good,” Franklin said. “It gives me confidence that we’re going to be able to come in and immediately start producing – really start making changes and really start getting this program the respect it deserves.”

For Zimmerman, the trust placed on him gives him a sense of pride. 

“It’s heartwarming,” Zimmerman said of being trusted with the turnaround of NIU hockey. “To be a part of something greater than your personal stats – to be part of something greater than being cool and looking good out there on the ice.”

The trust placed on the freshman group comes with some pressure, which is nothing new to Franklin, who was the only one able to lead his team in high school. 

From his experience, Franklin learned how to use pressure to his advantage.

“It’s our first college years and we have that expectation – that standard to set for everybody else in the next four years to come,” Franklin said. “Take that pressure and just kind of bottle it up and use it to continue onto practice and on the ice and just keep blowing everybody away.”

Zimmerman feels that pressure will bring out the best in everyone. 

“Everybody kind of knows what happened last year and what the turnaround is going to look like this year,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a little bit of pressure, but … I think we have a great freshman class. So, I think with a good core of returners … I think we can definitely make this a big turnaround.” 

With the season-opener just two weeks away, Franklin hopes to establish a put up or shut up mindset in the locker room to get well past the four-win mark. 

“I’d like to just continue to send that message: if you’re not going to buy in then we’re not going to have you and you’re not going to succeed with us,” Franklin said. “Because we’re going to keep growing. We’re going to keep getting better and if you’re not going to be a part of that, then we don’t want you.”


NIU hockey opens its season against Kent State University at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 15 at Canlan Ice Sports in West Dundee.

Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the door. NIU students get free entry with their OneCard.

The game will be streamed on the NIU hockey YouTube channel. 

More to Discover