Hockey drops second-straight conference matchup


Beverly Buchinger

The starting lineup for the NIU hockey team crowds by its goal for a pre-game meeting before NIU’s game against Purdue University Northwest on Oct. 14. (Beverly Buchinger | NIU Hockey)

By Alex Crowe, Senior Sports Reporter

WEST DUNDEE – The NIU hockey team’s (0-10, 0-2 MCH) losing streak hit double digits Saturday when it dropped its 10th straight and the second of a two-game home series to the Midland University Warriors (2-6, 2-0 MCH) by a final score of 10-4.

The Warriors started the scoring three minutes into the first period when sophomore forward Zach Weber’s shot beat Huskie junior goaltender Ben Vutci on the far side. The teams traded scoring chances for the remaining 17 minutes, but Midland carried the 1-0 lead into the first intermission.

A power play goal 17 seconds into the second period put Midland up two goals. Senior defenseman Hunter Wahl responded with a power play goal of his own with 8:52 remaining. Senior defenseman Alec Porzondek hit Wahl with a pass to the slot. Wahl deked (faked out) Midland sophomore goaltender Bryan Verna and buried an open net chance.

Porzondek described how finding a soft spot opened up the passing lane.

“When you see open ice, you gotta take it,” Porzondek said. “I just skated up the side of the ice and we had a guy cutting down the middle of the ice. It was a one-on-one battle and just chipped it right by him to a guy (Wahl) streaking to the middle of the net.”

Senior defenseman Alec Porzondek makes a breakout pass during NIU hockey’s game against Purdue University Northwest on Oct. 14. (Beverly Buchinger | NIU Hockey)

Midland took advantage of late Huskie penalties, scoring a pair of power-play goals late in the period to help take a 5-1 lead into the final 20 minutes.

The teams went blow for blow in the third period, combining for eight goals in the period. Goals from Porzondek and senior forwards Nick Gonzalez and Rodahn Evans pushed the Huskies’ goal total to four, but Midland freshman forward Tommy Wardas’ hat trick helped his team to a 10-4 victory.

The Huskies have been unable to put together a strong 60-minute effort this season. Head coach Brad Stoffers wants to see his team consistently build on the positives.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” Stoffers said. “If it’s not one thing one night, it’s something else in a different night. We’re really trying to build off and create a way that we want to play and try and do that consistently.”

The Huskies’ penalty kill took a step back from Friday’s game, going 0/3 on the day. Stoffers cited shot blocking as one of the sources of the penalty kill’s struggles.

“Our guys didn’t have as much will to block shots. I think yesterday (Friday) we had over 20 blocks,” Stoffers said. “Today you didn’t see that quite as much. I think just a couple of missed blocks.”

Porzondek suggested the team lacked communication on the kill and detailed why talking on the ice is so important.

“Our communication is a big part of the PK (penalty kill),” Porzondek said. “If you’re not talking, you don’t know what’s going on. And if you don’t know what’s going on, it’s bad news.”

Down big in the third, Stoffers described how playing loose helped the Huskies improve their game and hopes to see the team replicate that effort going forward.

“We just came out with nothing to lose. Popped a few goals playing pretty free,” Stoffers said. “We played some of our best hockey in the third. Guys just playing with energy … I don’t know how we mimic that going forward, but I’d like to see some more of that.”

With the opening weekend of conference games in the books, Porzondek emphasized the importance of moving forward after a tough set of games.

“You gotta have a short memory,” Porzondek said. “Wipe the slate clean after every time you come off the ice because you never know what’s going to happen next … That’s what you got to remember in conference play, that everything can just swing instantly with the change of one play.”

The Huskies hit the road next weekend to take on the University of Jamestown (5-4, 4-0 MCH) in a two-game road series. The puck drops at 7 p.m. Friday in North Dakota.