Revamped hockey team set to take on Western Michigan in season opener

By Matt Boecker

DeKALB — In the offseason, the hockey team made the jump from the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s division two rank to the newly formed Midwest College Hockey.

MHC is still backed by the ACHA, but it is a division one league. This is the first time in NIU hockey history the team will compete at the division-one level.

The team’s bump in divisions made the Huskies a more attractive destination to a different type of recruit than they’re used to getting, according to General Manager Ian Kalanges.

“From our returning top team, the D2 team last year, I believe there’s five guys that are on our D1 team, and we essentially brought in 18 new players,” Kalanges said. “To compare last year’s team to this year’s team, it’s a brand new team from top to bottom. We definitely brought in guys from higher skill levels.”

Kalanges also talked about the increase in interest from junior hockey players to come play at NIU.

Senior center Brad Krauser said the change is being felt from management all the way down to the players.

“There’s definitely a different feel in the locker room,” Krauser said. “Now we’re recruiting players from all over the place. I know we have 10 different players coming from out of state, and we have a kid from Russia. The culture’s changing a lot. Players are coming from junior programs and coming here specifically to play hockey.”

The Huskies will have 17 first-year players this season.

Head Coach Mike Rucinski said despite the influx of highly skilled players, the team is setting reasonable expectations for themselves.

“It’s going to be tough, but I think I have a good group of kids, and the idea is to build this thing,” Rucinski said. “You have to start somewhere, and that’s how I’m looking at it.”

The Huskies open the season 8 p.m. Friday when they host Western Michigan University at Canlan Ice Sports in West Dundee.

When talking about preparations for the season opener, Rucinski said his team is focusing on defensive strategies.

“We’re worrying about our zone [defense] and take our offensive chances if and when we get them,” Rucinski said.

The Broncos finished last year as a top-15 program in the nation.

Rucinski said he is aware of the talent the Broncos will bring but he is sure the Huskies will be ready to compete.