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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Illinois sneaks past hockey in close contest

Maldonado’s face mask pushes Illinois to series sweep over NIU
Beverly Buchinger
Freshman defenseman Jim Franklin and freshman forward Micah Maldonado rush the puck up the ice during NIU hockey’s game against Kent State University on Sept. 16. NIU lost the game by a final score of 4-3. (Beverly Buchinger | NIU hockey)

CHAMPAIGN – A second-period face mask penalty ended up making a big difference in NIU hockey’s (0-4) series finale at the University of Illinois (2-0), who dropped a tight contest by a final score of 4-2. 

Huskie freshman forward Micah Maldonado was hit with a five-minute major plus game misconduct penalty for grabbing an opponent’s face mask, and Illinois sophomore forward Gregory Etingen scored the eventual game-winning goal on the ensuing power play. 

Maldonado’s penalty was NIU’s third ejection for a face mask in four games. 

“In college, it’s a penalty. It’s a face mask,” head coach Brad Stoffers said. “I don’t know how long it will take until we figure it out – hopefully not much longer … three face masks in four games. It’s kind of ridiculous.” 


Freshman goaltender Caleb Cross made his first collegiate start for the Huskies Saturday, denying 41 of the 44 shots he faced throughout the game.

Despite Saturday being his first start in a Huskie uniform, Cross looked at the game as just another day.

“A little bit nervous – I’ve had more nerves for games before,” Cross said. “Growing up in Minnesota, it’s kind of everyone’s dream to play college hockey. So, really excited to come out and play my first college game.”

Cross kept the Huskies within reach of winning the game, never allowing the deficit to exceed two goals.

Freshman defenseman Jim Franklin sang Cross’ praise for giving them a chance to win. 

“He played great,” Franklin said. “Anything against was on D (defense) core and us as a team – nothing on him. He played a stand-up game and stood on his head for us. It was great, we just couldn’t get it done for him.” 


Through the first four games, NIU has only put seven goals on the scoreboard – including just two tallies over the two-game set against Illinois. 

Stoffers said the offense made seeing shots too easy for the opposing goaltender due to a lack of traffic in front of the net and pointed to a specific example from Saturday’s game as the remedy for the lack of goals. 

“Frankie’s (Franklin) goal there at the end, it’s just a shot from the point where we got guys screening and makes it hard on a goalie,” Stoffers said. “Getting shots on net and getting people there. We can’t be too cute. We can’t pass up shots.” 

Franklin, who tallied NIU’s second goal Saturday, said being more selfish with the puck could have led to more offense.

“Really just pure want for the puck,” Franklin said. “Willing to sacrifice to get into those little areas and to put their body in front to get the goals. I think a lot of it has just been giving it to somebody else and hoping they do the work for you. And we need to really start taking it as our own.”


Despite the loss, NIU skated away from Champaign outshooting Illinois 48-45 in Saturday’s game. 

To Stoffers, the stronger performance and higher team energy is a sign of more positive outcomes ahead. 

“Energy was really good to start the game,” Stoffers said. “We got to just continue to take steps forward. It’s only the second weekend, and there’s a lot of time left. The idea of a hockey season is to be the best team you can be coming down the stretch. So, if we were 4-0 or 0-4 right now, there’s still a lot to work on.” 

The Huskies retake the ice to square off against Western Michigan University at 9 p.m. Friday at Wings West Ice Arena in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

“We just got to come into practice on Tuesday and really bear down,” Cross said. “Work hard, work on all the little things, come in next week for Western Michigan.”

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