DeKALB — The Huskies held the lead after the first period, but it wasn’t enough to fend off the 23rd ranked Robert Morris University Eagles in Bensenville on Friday night.
With the 10-3 loss, NIU’s record dips to 5-21 with only five games remaining before Midwest College Hockey postseason play.
Despite facing constant offensive pressure from the Eagles, NIU was able to hold Robert Morris to only a single goal in the first period. When the Huskies got offensive chances of their own, they buried the puck. Goals from first-year forwards Hunter Wahl and Mason Ihrke gave NIU a 2-1 edge at the end of the period.
Robert Morris came out firing from start to finish in the second period. NIU took five penalties and the Eagles made them pay, scoring five power play goals. Head Coach Mike Rucinski said it’s all part of learning and gaining experience, but his players need to realize games like this will continue happening if the players keep taking penalties.
“We talked about it between periods, [RMU is] basically a top 20 team in the country and you know they’re going to come out fired up and we have to weather the storm in the first five minutes and that didn’t happen,” Rucinski said. “We took a couple penalties, they scored a few goals, before you knew it we were down 3-2. For whatever reason, they get flustered easy and get frustrated and lose their focus, and the next thing you get two or three penalties, the other team scores, the momentum all shifts, and it’s a struggle.”
The most significant penalty was a five minute game misconduct on sophomore defenseman Zach Huggins, which resulted in an ejection. After Huggins’ departure from the game, the Huskies were left with only three true defenseman because of injuries suffered by first-year defensemen Tyler Berry, Cullen MacNicoll and Drake Gieseke. Huggins will also be disqualified for game two on Saturday night.
The abundance of penalties also prevented NIU from formulating any sustained offensive pressure. The Eagles would tack on a few non-power play goals to make it a 9-2 game after the second period.
The scoring slowed down substantially in the third period, with Robert Morris scoring one shorthanded goal, and NIU scoring once on the power play. For the Huskies, it was sophomore forward Tyler Gut with assists from first-year forward Alex Piotrowski and senior forward Brad Krauser.
NIU will have a chance to spoil the Eagle’s senior night when the puck drops 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville, Illinois. The game can be streamed on NIU Hockey’s Facebook page.
Rucinski said first-year forward Austin Walny will continue to be the only forward pushed back to defense for game two.
“We’re going to probably go with the four defensemen, and have our first forward back and help out lower in the zone to try alleviating some pressure that way,” Rucinski said. “At this point, I don’t think we’re going to push anybody back to defense. We might get a shift here or there out of somebody to give those guys a rest. But it’s going to be tough, no doubt about it.”