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The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

COLUMN: NIU Hockey needs a wake-up call

Huskies must look inward to save season
Members of NIU Hockey salute the crowd after the teams 5-3 loss to Midland University on Oct. 27. The Huskies have dropped 20 of their 21 games so far this season. (Courtesy of NIU Hockey)
Courtesy NIU Hockey
Members of NIU Hockey salute the crowd after the team’s 5-3 loss to Midland University on Oct. 27. The Huskies have dropped 20 of their 21 games so far this season. (Courtesy of NIU Hockey)

DeKALB – If you told me in August that I would be sitting here writing a column about the infuriating ineptitude of NIU Hockey, I probably would have laughed in your face.

I would have pointed out how the team is enacting a “new standard” motto and that the new recruits from junior hockey were going to aid in a culture change to result in wins. 

But there I sat in Hammond, Indiana, last Friday, watching the Huskies get utterly embarrassed by Purdue University Northwest 14-2 for their 19th loss of the season in their 20th game. 

That game at PNW was the last straw for me. I’ve been too nice to this massively underperforming team. I have seen every game with my own two eyes, and the issues I see go beyond stats. 


The play in the defensive zone is a massive issue for this team. Structurally, they allow an extremely unsustainable amount of high-danger scoring chances. 

As if the proof of every issue I bring up is not in their one-win record, look no further than some of the scores we have seen this season. They allowed 13 goals to the University of Jamestown, 10 goals to Arizona State University and 14 goals against PNW. 

The team has a hard time executing even the most basic of hockey plays. When the defensemen have time and space to make an outlet pass or make a smart play, they panic and toss the puck away, resulting in a turnover. 

The defensive issues don’t only fall on the defensemen. The forwards, specifically the wingers, don’t seem to be aware of where they are positionally. If I see one more winger get the puck deep in the defensive zone and throw it to their own wing for a breakout, I may pop a blood vessel. 

Normally, I would bring this up as a coaching issue. But since the (unconfirmed) release of Brad Stoffers on Oct. 27, the team has had a by-committee coaching staff. So, I’ll steer clear of that aspect for now. 

These are basic hockey plays I learned in my early playing days. The players on this team have come from high-level junior teams and leagues. There is no excuse to see foolish plays such as wingers throwing the puck to a place they know none of their teammates are. 


I personally have never seen a team lose in the same formulaic way so consistently. They play great for the first period, even battling ranked teams to a tie through 20 minutes. 

Then the dreaded second period arrives. The team, for reasons that allude me, completely shuts down. They start taking penalties, they stop defending, they make egregious turnovers in all three zones. This results in the close scores they work hard for in the first period becoming blowouts by the end of the second period. 

Look at the team’s most recent game. Despite trailing 2-1 after the first period, NIU outshot PNW 12-11. Fast forward to the end of the second period, PNW leads 5-1, outshoots NIU 29-5 in the period and the Huskies have six new entries in the penalty section of the scoresheet. 

This team has too much junior hockey experience and too much talent to be allowing the same issues to persist. It has to stop quickly before this disastrous season falls further into the abyss. 


This team is much better than their record indicates, and I will die on that hill. 

Where the issue lies is in inconsistency from some of the most skilled hockey players I’ve seen in college hockey. 

Freshman forward Micah Maldonado is exhibit 1A. I’ve seen Maldonado dazzle multiple times. His shot is far and away the best on the team. He can undress defenders like they forgot how to skate. I’m always on the edge of my seat when he gets the puck. 

But sometimes, Maldonado seems timid to do what makes him a special player. When he has time and space to make a highlight-reel play, he’ll pass the opportunity away instead of skating the puck up and backing defenders off. 

Aside from the skill of many of the players, the effort level, at times, is severely lacking. 

Watching teams like Jamestown, Arizona State and PNW, those teams’ players always find that extra step – that extra gear to win a puck battle or win a footrace. NIU doesn’t win enough puck battles or win enough races needed to create high-quality offensive chances. 

This team, as they currently stand, don’t have the drive necessary to put them over the edge and win close contests. The talent in this lineup isn’t the issue. Players like Maldonado, graduate student forward Rodahn Evans and freshman forwards Robbie Zimmerman and Walker Smith make this team good on paper. The drive to win has to be more consistent. 


Yes, this team has dealt with a lot of adversity. I applaud them for battling through variables out of their control like injuries, ineligible players and their coach (again, unconfirmed) leaving. 

The grind of a tough season only serves to make them stronger in the long run. 

In addition, reinforcements should be on the way. The team’s two ineligible players – soon-to-be freshman defenseman Nick Castillo and sophomore forward Cam Pathana – are set to debut at the start of the spring semester if everything stays on track. Those two players, especially Castillo since he played high-level junior hockey, will provide much needed depth to the lineup. 

The team can also look at transfers from other schools during winter break. Freshman forward Lucas Sturm, who was recruited to NIU in March but decommitted before the season, could be an intriguing addition from Indiana Tech if that transfer happens. 

The team has one series remaining before the month-long break. While the matchup against No. 6 University of Mary will be tough this weekend, the team has an opportunity to get a head start on flipping the script of this season. 

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