DeKALB — Hockey’s inaugural D1 season came to a close after losing 6-3 to the Maryville University Saints on Friday night in round one of the Midwest College Hockey playoffs.
After beating Maryville in a shootout in the regular season finale, NIU couldn’t roll the momentum into the postseason. It was an uphill battle all game for the Huskies, who were trailing in all but the opening four minutes.
The Saints later upped their lead to three goals before NIU stormed back and slash the deficit to one. That was as close as the Huskies got before the final buzzer sounded on the game and the season.
“It was kind of a mixed bag, really,” Head Coach Mike Rucinski said. “[We] played well at times, didn’t play so well at times. Our passing wasn’t sharp enough. We had some turnovers obviously that hurt us. But overall, I was proud of the fact they didn’t quit.”
The first period showed lots of physical play. Puck possession time favored the Huskies early, who had more shots on goal than the Saints. NIU was unable to convert their chances to goals, and as the game progressed, things swayed in Maryville’s favor. This led to the Saints finding the back of the net twice in the opening period.
In the second period, Maryville continued their strong offensive play. A goal just 1:29 into the period bumped the Saint’s lead to 3-0. About five minutes later, senior forward Brad Krauser got the Huskies on the scoreboard with a goal in his third consecutive game. However, Maryville would get it right back before the period ended to make it a 4-1 game.
Despite the four goals, Eisele’s solid play in net kept the game from getting out of hand.
Things started turning around for NIU in the third period. The offense was controlling the time of possession and getting high quality chances. This resulted in first-year forward Hunter Wahl scoring a goal off a pretty feed from first-year forward Rodahn Evans with 18:43 left in the period. About eight minutes later, Wahl buried the biscuit again. This time, he tipped in a shot while on the power play to bring the Huskies within one goal.
NIU lost all momentum a minute later when a mishandled puck led to a Maryville breakaway goal, bringing the lead back to two. Rucinski said this was a back-breaking goal for the Huskies. NIU pulled their goalie towards the end of the game, but to no avail, as the Saints once more to seal the first round victory.