Huskies upset Illinois State in hockey’s second road conference victory


First-year forward Hunter Wahl skates up-rink Nov. 9 during NIU’s loss to McKendree University at Canlan Ice Sports.

By Matt Boecker

DeKALB — Hockey snapped its four-game losing streak Friday with a win in Bloomington against the Illinois State University Redbirds.

The Huskies took tough losses in its previous four games. The ISU games don’t get any easier, as they’re the Huskies’ fifth and sixth consecutive games against top-25 ranked opponents. 

But NIU started the weekend on a high note, taking down the Redbirds, 2-1. 

Sophomore goaltender Brian Eisele and first-year defenseman Alec Porzondek came up big in NIU’s third win of the season.

Eisele made big save after big save, and he kept the Huskies in the game all night long. NIU also did a good job of staying out of the penalty box, taking only three penalties. Eisele said his teammates played a major role in his success on Friday night.

“All the players did a good job at tying up their guys and sticking with their man defensively,” Eisele said. “My defensemen played really well in front me. They helped me out a lot.”

In the third period, NIU was trailing 1-0 and needed a spark. On his 21st birthday, Porzondek was able to find the back of the net twice on power-plays, scoring his second and third goals of the season. Porzondek thinks the team may have found a power play line that can produce some goals.

“I think it was a combination of us clicking on the power play,” Porzondek said. “We’ve been jumbling lines around the past couple practices, and we’ve finally found the line that’s starting to produce. That was a huge factor in the game for us.”

Porzondek said the team came into Friday’s game with more confidence than previous games. He also said NIU realized the Redbirds, who are the top team in Midwest College Hockey, might underestimate the Huskies. So, NIU used it to its advantage.

“Well I know they’re number one in our conference, so when you see us playing the number one team in the conference, you expect the underdogs,” Porzondek said. “That’s exactly what we hoped for them to think of us — the underdogs. And we came out and surprised them.”

Head Coach Mike Rucinski said the win is a huge step in the right direction, and he hopes his players realize that.

“I told them after the game that they got to start believing in the process,” Rucinski said. “It shows that any given night, anything can happen. But I think we cleaned up some areas and improved, and it showed.”

NIU improves to 3-9 on the season, and 3-4 in Midwest College Hockey conference play. Eisele and Porzondek said playing MCH opponents bumps the energy of the game to a different level compared to non-conference games. That energy transferred over to the NIU locker room after the win.

“It was crazy in the locker room; all the boys were so hyped about [the win],” Porzondek said. “There are only a couple things that can get a whole locker room screaming and jumping around at the end of a game, and one’s pulling off a big time win for a team that needs it.”

NIU will look to complete the sweep Saturday, as the two teams square off once again 7 p.m. at Grossinger Motors Arena.

This is the first time NIU will have a chance at sweeping an opponent, as they’ve lost the first game in each previous two-game weekend matchups. Rucinski said he’s interested in seeing how the team reacts.

“From a confidence standpoint, we’re feeling good from the win last night,” Rucinski said. “We’ve never been in this position, so it’ll be interesting to see how the boys react tonight. You got an ISU team now that wasn’t planning on losing last night, so they’re going to come out fired up. We have to match that intensity and take it a notch above.”