Hockey loses hard-fought game to Missouri State


Sophomore goaltender Brian Eisele jumps on a loose puck during NIU’s Feb. 15 loss to Robert Morris University at Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville, Illinois. 

By Matt Boecker

DeKALB — After mounting a comeback from a two goal deficit, the Huskies couldn’t keep the momentum rolling in a 5-3 loss to the Missouri State University Ice Bears on Friday night. 

NIU was down 3-1 toward the end of the second period, but the team responded, scoring twice to knot the game at three goals apiece. But that’s where the scoring would end for the Huskies and the Ice Bears would score twice more to cap the victory.

Despite the loss, Head Coach Mike Rucinski felt there were a lot of positives to take away from the game.

One positive was the grit the team displayed to comeback from the deficit they faced. Rucinski said had NIU gotten the next goal after the game was knotted at three, he’s confident it would’ve ended in a Huskie victory.

“We just didn’t catch a break,” Rucinski said. “We had a few chances but couldn’t score, couldn’t get the lead. When it was 3-3, it was one of those whoever scores next wins kind of thing, and they beat us to the punch with a goal. I told them I was very proud because they worked their butts off and sometimes you deserve a better fate but don’t get it.”

Another positive was the teams’ persistence which led to what Rucinski estimated to be NIU’s best game in terms of puck possession. It also led to the Huskies only taking four penalties.

“We had the puck in their zone an awful lot, and when you’re on offense it puts less stress on your defense and therefore less likely to take penalties,” Rucinski said. “If you’re always on your heels and in the defensive zone, they’re controlling all the play, and we have a better chance to take penalties.”

In the opening period, the Ice Bears came out fast and had quality scoring chances, but the Huskies would push back and start creating offensive chances of their own. However, they weren’t enough to match the lone goal scored by the Ice Bears with 14:13 remaining.

The scoring ramped up in the second period. With 14:35 left, some crisp passes from first-year forward Rodahn Evans and first-year defenseman Alec Porzondek made it easy for first-year forward Hunter Wahl to chip in a power play goal. 

Following Wahl’s goal, Missouri State scored two unanswered goals to take a 3-1 lead. But with 3:21 left, first-year defenseman Kyle Meehan shot the puck on net which allowed Evans to tip it past Ice Bear senior goaltender Brady Griffin. The period would end with the Huskies trailing 3-2.

With 13:44 remaining in the final period, Wahl was on the receiving end of another pretty pass, this time from first-year forward Osman Cholak. This granted Wahl some space to deke around Griffin and bury his second goal of the night.

About 90 seconds later, the Ice Bears would go back on top with a goal of their own. Then with about three minutes remaining, NIU took an untimely penalty that allowed Missouri State to score on the man advantage. This was enough the give the Ice Bears the 5-3 win in game one.

With the loss, the Huskies drop their fifth consecutive game, bringing their record to 5-23.

The teams will tangle once more 7 p.m. Saturday as the Huskies try taking one on the road in Springfield. 

Overall, Rucinski was pleased with what he saw on Friday, leaving minimal adjustments for Saturday’s bout. One thing NIU will try eliminating is the number of odd-man rushes for the Ice Bears.

“I think we gave them too many odd-man breaks, especially in the first two periods, not so much in the third,” Rucinski said. “We probably gave them six or seven 2-on-1s in the first couple periods, but [sophomore goaltender Brian Eisele] played great and made some great saves when he had to, and that’s all you can ask out of him.”