NIU hockey downed by Stallions at home

WEST DUNDEE – NIU hockey’s efforts at finding its first victory of the season continue to fall short after consecutives losses to the Western Michigan University Stallions over the weekend.

The Huskies (0-6, 0-0 MCH) dropped both games in their home series to the Stallions (3-2, 0-0 GLCHL) by scores of 7-1 on Friday and 5-4 on Saturday.

The team started slow in the first period Friday. Shots from WMU junior forward Blake Siewertsen, sophomore forward Justin Satawa and freshman forward Michael Stein got past junior goaltender Ben Vutci, who made 43 saves, to go up 3-0.

Senior forward Hunter Wahl got the Huskies within two goals late in the first period when sophomore defenseman Keaton Peters’ point shot caused a rebound in front for Wahl to put home. Peters and senior forward Rodahn Evans assisted on the goal.

Wahl explained that he used the space Evans created off the rush and from Peters’ shot threat to find a soft spot in the defense.

“Saw Rodahn come down. He made a nice move wide, went up to Peters,” Wahl said. “Perfect shot hit my stick, goalie went to make a save. I just worked harder than the defense next to me. Got the puck on the far side of him and tucked it home.”

The Huskies battled in the second period, having most of the scoring chances. Despite holding the early advantage, Western Michigan scored the only goal of the second period to take a 4-1 lead into the final 20 minutes.

The third period saw Western Michigan pot three more goals and walk away with a series-opening 7-1 win.

The Huskies started slow again on Saturday. Two shots got past sophomore goaltender Grant Goodson, who made 46 saves, to go up 2-0.

This game proved to be different than Friday. Wahl’s second tally of the weekend cut the deficit in half. Shortly after, sophomore forward Jason “Jay” Kliment hit senior forward Randy Apter with a pass on a two-on-one rush, and Apter sniped it top shelf. Apter’s second tally of the season tied the game 2-2 heading into the second period.

Western Michigan got a goal back three minutes into the second period to go back up 3-2, but the Huskies still pressed the attack.

NIU’s penalty kill came up big, killing a five minute major penalty to stay within a goal. Then, freshman forward Cam Pathana made an incredible short-handed effort late in the period. He shook off two defenders near the net and rifled his first career college goal top shelf to tie the game. Western Michigan responded by finding two more goals to go up 5-3 after two periods.

The Huskies battled hard in the third period with a flurry of chances getting stopped by Western Michigan freshman goaltender Collin Guelcher. Pathana finally got the Huskies back within a goal on another brilliant short-handed effort, winning a foot race to an area pass by Evans and sneaking it past Guelcher.

Pathana explained that staying with plays and putting pressure on the defense led to both his short-handed goals, even though scoring wasn’t his intention on the penalty kill.

“Every time the puck went deep, I just made sure I was the first guy there,” Pathana said.

The Huskies desperately tried to find the equalizer, but Western Michigan held on, allowing them to head back to Kalamazoo, Michigan, with a 5-4 win.

Successes on the power play and penalty kill were a bright spot for the Huskies this weekend. The power play generated great scoring chances, and the penalty kill escaped a two minute five-on-three on Friday and a five minute major penalty on Saturday.

Head coach Brad Stoffers was happy with how his special teams were able to boost the team’s momentum.

“There was some good puck movement on the power play. Both units today (Friday) were finding seams and moving pucks pretty well,” Stoffers said. “We killed off that five-on-three, that was a huge momentum boost for us. A two minute five-on-three.”

Wahl detailed what the team adjusted from last Friday in order to not take any teams lightly and  get the power play at the level they want.

“They had faster D (defense) than we were expecting, so some of our break-ins were getting shut down,” Wahl said. “I honestly just think it was making the adjustment from slow D to fast D. We underestimated their defense, and I think we corrected that.”

Despite the two losses, Saturday’s hard-fought effort gave the team confidence, and Stoffers is preaching small steps, building on the positives and patience.

“I hope it builds our guys. We’re getting close, we’re taking steps,” Stoffers said. “We’re learning and we’re trying to build something here, so it’s gonna take some time.”

Pathana, despite the sting of losing a close game, hopes Saturday’s game shows his team what they’re capable of.

“This one hurt a little more though because it was a little closer, and we had an opportunity to tie it up or win the game,” Pathana said. “But that just shows us that we’re not as bad as we think we are – and we’re better than we are. That we can put up points the same way a team can on us. We just gotta find that and capitalize on our opportunities.”

The Huskies have next weekend off and will then meet the Purdue University Northwest Pride (2-0, 0-0 GLCHL) for a home-and-home weekend series on Oct. 14 at Canlan Ice Sports in West Dundee. They will then travel to the Kube Sports Complex in Hammond, Indiana to finish the weekend series on Oct. 15.