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NMU hockey's offensive output a surprise

October 17, 2011
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

Coming into the 2011-12 season, scoring was a major concern for the Northern Michigan University hockey team from this beat writer's point of view.

Northern's top recruits coming into the season were defensemen and those sophomores, juniors and seniors that were returning had less than stellar offensive seasons a year ago.

Head coach Walt Kyle wasn't instilling a lot of confidence in my mind either from an offensive end, insisting the Wildcats would be able to produce points and negate the need for one prolific offensive threat with scoring by committee.

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"Scoring by committee" in my experience has always been code for offensive struggles, however, Kyle and the 'Cats have done just that in their first four games of the season.

NMU has scored by committee.

Eight different Wildcats scored in the 5-2 and 3-2 victories over St. Cloud State at the Berry Events Center this weekend to bring the number of NMU goal scorers this year to eight.

Those eight Wildcats have accounted for 13 goals, something that took NMU seven games to accomplish last season.

Only three of the eight goal scorers have multiple goals, led by senior Justin Florek's four and the two each scored by sophomore Reed Seckel and junior Kory Kaunisto.

However, four Wildcats have four points so far this season and six additional Wildcats beyond the eight goal scorers have wound up on the final scoresheet.

Junior forward Matt Thurber and junior defensemen Scott Macaulay each have four assists and junior defenseman Kyle Follmer has three assists to go with his one goal.

Offensive-minded defensemen like Macaulay and Follmer have been a big part of the Wildcats ability to find the back of the net early this season. Sophomore Wade Epp and freshmen Mitch Jones each have two assists as well, while sophomore CJ Ludwig and freshmen Jake Baker have yet to record a point. Both have a pair of shots in their four games, though, and are sure to get on the board eventually.

Along with offensive-minded defensemen, the Wildcats have three forward lines who all have good chemistry and little-to-no experimentation was necessary.

Typically it's taken Kyle and the 'Cats weeks, if not months, to begin finding the right line combinations at forward and some seasons, injuries have prevented Northern from ever forming consistent trios.

This year Kyle hit the mark on his first shot with Seckel-Thurber-Kaunisto; Florek-freshman Dylan Walchuk-senior Tyler Gron; and sophomore Erik Higby-sophomore Stephan Vigier-senior Andrew Cherniwchan.

Florek's line has scored in three of four games this season while the Kaunisto and Cherniwchan lines have scored in two of four games. The Kaunisto line has scored each weekend and Cherniwchan's group rebounded from a rough weekend in Madison to score each night in Marquette.

Despite the success, the Wildcats still can not be considered an offensive juggernaut by any means, unlike their opponent this weekend in Michigan. UM is averaging six goals a game while allowing only five all season.

NMU will host the Wolverines at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night at the Berry Events Center to open the second-to-last season of CCHA play before Michigan heads to the Big Ten and NMU moves to the WCHA in two years.

To hand the Wolverines their first loss of the year, NMU will need all eight goal scorers to find the back of the net and its top three lines to produce each night.

NMU will also need to stay out of the penalty box, get solid play from its defensemen and ask Reid Ellingson and Jared Coreau to match the play of Michigan's Shawn Hunwick - i.e. stand on their head.

That may sound like a lot to ask this early in the season, but we saw this weekend at the BEC.

I sure hope the Wildcats give us a repeat of this past weekend.

One can only ask, "Why can't you score?" and "How do you halt the penalty parade?" in so many ways.

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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