NIU hockey’s struggles persist after sweep by DePaul

Huskies remain winless after four games

DeKALB – The Huskies hockey team (0-3, 0-0 MCH) dropped the first game of their home-and-home weekend series against the DePaul University Blue Demons (3-0, 0-0 NCHL) by a final score of 8-2.

New opponent, same results

The teams traded scoring chances in the first period, and Huskie junior goalie Ben Vutci kept DePaul off the scoreboard. Vutci finished the game with 39 saves. The Huskies got pucks to the net with the use of traffic, looking for second-chance opportunities – but the first 20 minutes passed without a goal.

Junior center Lukas Theodosopoulos and junior winger Billy Paschen put DePaul up 2-0 less than a minute into the second period, but junior forward Austin Walny responded seven minutes later to cut the deficit in half. Sophomore defenseman Keaton Peters and senior forward Rodahn Evans assisted on the goal. DePaul added three more goals to put them at five tallies heading to the third period.

DePaul squashed NIU’s hope of a comeback when senior winger Brock Ash and junior winger Billy Paschen added two more goals to extend DePaul’s lead to six in the third period. Evans recorded his second goal of the season at the 10:30 mark, but DePaul scored one more goal to seal their victory.

Defense was an issue for the Huskies, giving up 47 shots on goal. Defensemen were caught stepping up in the wrong situations that opened scoring chances for DePaul. Evans emphasized the Huskies’ need to lock in on defense and explained what they can do when joining the rush is too risky.

“We just have to button down defensively,” Evans said. “They (the defensemen) get the line and maybe you just get it deep instead of trying to head-man the puck. They intercept that puck and they start going – give it to a forward and follow the play instead of trying to lead the play.”

Despite this, the defensemen generated some offense; leading to scoring opportunities for the Huskies. Head coach Brad Stoffers described getting the team to play to his vision and the difficulty defensemen face in understanding when to jump in.

“It’s kind of a feel for the game, a feel for the shift. You gotta learn how to pick your spots,” Stoffers said. “These guys still need to learn how I want them to play. We’re still only five or six weeks into … this first season with me as the head coach. So, I think guys are still trying to learn my expectation for them and also probably what they can get away with.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s game, Evans emphasized team defense will need to be adjusted to beat a team he feels shouldn’t be winning by six goals.

“Defense. We just button down defensively, and we’ll kill them. It wasn’t a team we should’ve lost to,” Evans said. “Tomorrow’s gonna be a different story.”

Stoffers wants to see more pucks get to the net and make the game more difficult for their opponent.

“I think we really need to change our game. Be harder to play against,” Stoffers said. We need to continue to get to the grade-A area … most goals have the highest chance of scoring in that grade-A area. We need to get more pucks there.”

The Huskies travel to Chicago for the second of the two-game home-and-home series with DePaul. Puck drop is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at Johnny’s Ice House West.

A frustrating end to the weekend

The Huskies started the game by getting the forecheck going early to try to put pressure on DePaul’s defense and to make plays quickly. The Huskies couldn’t sustain the coverage, leading to the Blue Demons scoring three goals within 10 minutes into the first period.

“One of our focuses after the first period was trying to correct the miscues defensively,” head coach Brad Stoffers said. “Our defense was just flat-out getting beat. They wanted it a little bit more than us.”

After DePaul’s third goal, the Huskies countered with a goal by senior forward Rodahn Evans off of a power play.

“I thought we gained momentum and thought we had a great shift after that,” Evans said. “Walny had great pass across. We set up the power play perfect for an easy one-timer in.”

Evans’ goal was returned by DePaul’s third goal to end the first period. The end of the first period resulted in the disqualification of senior defenseman Luke Marks due to helmet grab. There were also three other players in the penalty box to start the second period.

“Shoutout to Luke Marks; he protected his teammate and did what he needed to do,” Evans said.

The second period saw Blue Demons take advantage of penalties committed by the Huskies, beginning with a five-minute power play that led to two Blue Demons goals three minutes into the period. Junior forward Austin Walny scored the Huskies’ second and final goal of the game off of a Blue Demons penalty.

The five-minute penalty to start the second period was a pivotal point in the game that blew the Blue Demons’ lead open.

“Sure, the five-minute penalty kind of cost us the game after that,” Evans said. “But we’ll take someone protecting their teammate that’s getting rammed from behind, especially in this league with these refs.”

The Huskies continued to give their best effort in the third period, scoring the third and final goal by junior forward  Brandon Weitzel. The Blue Demons responded with a goal to extend the lead 10-3.

“There’s a lot we need to work on and it’s pretty obvious,” Stoffers said. “It’s only the second week of the season, and regardless of where you are in the standings, there’s always something you need to work on.”

Both Stoffers and Evans emphasized defending better and spending more time with the puck.

“We’re giving up way too much in our zone right now,” Stoffers said. “We want to get the puck and be on offense more.”

The Huskies will continue their season next weekend in a two-game series against Western Michigan University. The first game will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Canlan Ice Sports in West Dundee.