Men’s hockey ready to drop the puck for 2011

By Ed Rietveld

The cooler temperatures, turning leaves and fall breezes can only mean one thing: It’s time to drop the puck for another NIU hockey season.

The Huskies finished last season with an overall record of 17-17-5. NIU finished fifth in the MACHA Gold division standings with a conference record of 6-7-3.

Heading into the 2011-2012 season, the Huskies look to improve upon last year.

“We’d like to be No. 1 or No. 2 in our league and we’d like to be in the top 10 in the Central division,” said Greg Chromy, NIU Division II hockey coach.

If the Huskies finish in the top 10 in the Central, they would qualify for regionals, said Huskies captain Mike Sible.

Nine players return from the team a year ago. Of the nine returning, four ranked in the top 10 for points scored.

Even though it may seem like scoring goals might not be a problem for the Huskies, Chromy is quick to mention the defensive side of the game.

“We can put the puck in the net,” Chromy said. “We like to play our defense first, which hopefully opens up our offense.”

The Huskies will need to find a new starting goalie this season. Sible explained what that will mean for NIU.

“Obviously, the goaltenders are going to have to adjust to playing at this level as far as game speed, shots and things of that nature,” Sible said. “It’s also going to be a learning curve as far as communication with the other players on the ice letting guys know if there’s pressure…so I think the biggest adjustment is going to be that communication factor.”

The DII season starts Sept. 30 with a road game against Robert Morris University. The first home game is Oct. 14 against the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

A new era for NIU hockey is about to begin.

Starting this year, a second Huskies men’s hockey club team will compete at the Division III level.

NIU has high expectations for this season even though it is the DIII club’s first season.

“I definitely am excited and definitely I’m expecting us to at least make a big push to make the playoffs and hopefully, if we are shooting for the stars, make an appearance at regionals,” said John Lyne, NIU DIII head coach. “But we do have a solid core group of new players.”

The DIII squad will help new players familiarize themselves with NIU’s style of play, said NIU DIII captain Pat Giannini.

The DIII roster will have a handful of returning players who were on the DII roster, and the rest are players who are new to the program, Lyne said.

Lyne thinks all the newcomers will have to make one major adjustment once the season starts.

“They are stepping up from high school-level programs to [a] college program,” Lyne said. “The game is much faster even at the DIII level. That’s probably the biggest adjustment: the speed of the game.”

The DIII team begins a season tonight Friday, Sept. 23 on the road against Augustana College. The first home game is Sept. 30 against Northwestern University.