Huskies reflect on transition and level of play in college hockey

By Matt Boecker

DeKALB — NIU hockey is going through a major transitional period in its inaugural season at the D1 level.

NIU’s American Collegiate Hockey Association D2 team was bumped up to D1 for the first time in program history. Only four players on the D1 team were in the program last season: sophomore goaltender Chad Dodero, sophomore forwards Tyler Gut and Brandon Ledyard and senior forward Brad Krauser.

These are some of the things the team is working through during this period of transition:

New competition

NIU is competing in the Midwest College Hockey conference this season. The MCH is also in its inaugural season, and some of the teams in the conference have never faced the Huskies.

NIU has played McKendree University and Illinois State University in previous seasons, but it’s never faced Maryville University, Waldorf University or Midland University.

Teams like McKendree and Maryville are in similar situations as NIU, concerning the influx of players. It is also McKendree and Maryville’s first seasons at the D1 level.

Waldorf, Midland and ISU each have more returning players than their foes in the MCH. Waldorf and Midland each competed in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics during the past season. For ISU, this is its fourth season at the ACHA D1 level.

New teammates

The team’s roster consists of 22 players, 18 of which are new to the program. Ledyard said he has never had this many new teammates at one time prior to this season.

“We all get along off ice, which is really good and will translate onto the ice,” Ledyard said. “We’ve been undergoing a lot of line changes, so it’s been taking a little bit for us to find our groove and find the chemistry. Right now, we’re sitting at a pretty good spot with how our lines are set up.”

Ledyard said as the season has progressed, players are starting to gel and learn the intricacies of their teammates’ style of play. Having good personalities on the team has helped expedite that process, he said.


Before anything else, Krauser and Ledyard said the pace of the game is ramping up. 

“Everything is [run] at a faster pace,” Ledyard said. “You have less time to think about what you want to do with the puck. You have to know [what you want to do with the puck] before you get it. A lot of players are struggling trying to adjust to it, but it takes time. With every level you go up there’s always going to be faster plays, harder shots, stuff like that.”

Part of the reason for the faster pace is the depth displayed from NIU’s opponents. From the top of the roster to the bottom, D1 players can hold their own. This has been the main difference in the style of play that second-year Head Coach Mike Rucinski said he notices.

“The most noticeable is the skill level, it’s obviously higher and the depth of each team is more apparent,” Rucinski said. “Many of the ACHA D2 schools, their top line can probably play D1. At the D1 level you go 3 if not 4 lines deep, whereas ACHA D2 is probably 2 lines deep at the most, the 3rd and 4th lines are questionable.”

Role change

Krauser said his role within the team has changed because of the increase in skill, both on NIU’s roster and in the opponents the team now faces. Last season, Krauser played on the first line and would regularly have breakout games. The top two lines would be relied upon to produce a majority of the team’s scoring. 

This season, a well-rounded roster is required for success. 

“It’s more about getting everyone to chip in, in some regards, and I think that’s been the biggest adjustment, my role,” Krauser said. “It’s more adapting to playing a 2-way game and playing a more complete game. This year, there [are] a lot of guys that can play, and there’s less of a dropoff between our top guys and our bottom guys. All four lines can play and compete and chip in.”

This is also Krauser’s first season as team captain and Ledyard’s first season as an alternate captain. 

Playing matchups 

For Rucinski, the coaching approach has been identical to the previous season. 

The coaching staff and players try giving maximum effort every time they take the ice, Rucinski said. The coaches look for any details they can find to give the team an edge.

The one coaching difference Rucinski has noticed is creating proper matchups against opponents.

“I think we take a little more focus on matching up lines with the other team’s top lines,” Rucinski said. “Especially at home, you get the last change so you’re able to make those slight adjustments. We’ll find out the other side of that coin in a few weeks as we take to the road, but I think that’s just it. We try to get the right matchups.”