MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University head hockey coach Walt Kyle was hesitant early last week to call the Wildcats' penalty kill a strength, though he did say it was improved from a year ago.
After Saturday night's effort, it would be tough for the Wildcat coach to dismiss it any longer six games into the season.
"We just have a great group of guys out there killing," said NMU senior captain Justin Florek of Marquette. "You can take a penalty two ways. You can be down. You can be frustrated and just have a bad attitude about it.
"We go out there and say, 'We know we can kill this off. We can do it.'"
The No. 17-ranked Wildcats killed a five-minute Michigan power play that began with 40 seconds remaining in the third period and ended with 40 seconds left in overtime before falling in a shootout to the No. 1 Wolverines in front of a sellout crowd of 4,260 at the Berry Events Center.
"This building all weekend was outstanding," Kyle said. "This building tonight (Saturday) was incredible. Once we got it going, they would not let us stop and that's a huge, huge deal. Hopefully that can continue for us and hopefully we can make them happy."
NMU sophomore Reed Seckel was called for contact to the head at 19:20 of the third period with the score tied 3-3 after leveling a Wolverine at the blue line, resulting in a five-minute major for contact to the head and game disqualification, even though a look at game footage shot by the NMU coaching staff showed Seckel checking Michigan's Travis Lynch shoulder-to-shoulder with his arm at his side.
The Wildcats, who are now 31-of-34 on the penalty kill having survived two five-minute majors and three 5-on-3 disadvantages, held Michigan to zero shots on goal during the first 40 seconds of Saturday's five-minute disadvantage to close regulation, then limited Michigan to only three shots during the first 4:20 of overtime down a man.
Florek was on the ice for what he estimated all but 30 seconds of the five-minute penalty kill, an effort that reminded Kyle of former NMU Wildcat Dallas Drake, who was in attendance both nights at the Berry Events Center this weekend.
"The deal with Flo is, I was just talking to Dallas Drake, in those situations Dallas Drake wanted to be on the ice every time and the same with Flo," Kyle said. "Flo didn't want me to take him off the ice and when Flo wants to go, he's going."
Once at full strength, NMU was able to post a pair of shots on the Michigan net in the final 40 seconds with senior Tyler Gron taking a shot from the right faceoff circle and Erik Higby firing a shot from the right, but neither lit the lamp.
NMU junior Brian Nugent, Gron and freshman Dylan Walchuk were unable to score in the shootout while A.J. Treais scored the lone goal for Michigan to give the Wolverines at least two points heading back to Ann Arbor.
"It was a good weekend," NMU freshman Mitch Jones said. "We had a strong first game and came out pretty slow in the second game, but showed some character and battled back.
"Myself included, we need to keep getting better, keep getting used to the faster pace. That was the fastest team we've played so far. It makes you better playing against them and that goes for everyone on our team."
Jones tied the game at 3-3 with his second career goal to give NMU a four-point weekend in the CCHA standings 59 seconds into the third period after Michigan retook the lead with 59 seconds remaining in the second period.
Gron scored a pair of power play goals with assists from Florek in the second period from the exact same spot in the exact same fashion to tie the game at 2-2.
Set up by Walchuk the first time and junior defenseman Scott Macaulay the second time, Florek bounced a pair of shots off Michigan senior netminder Shawn Hunwick. Both shots were deflected to Gron's stick as the senior forward buried both chances on an open net for his third and fourth goals of the season.
"I didn't like Tyler in the first period," Kyle said. "I thought he was sluggish and sloppy and to his credit, he responded and did an outstanding job."
Michigan took a 2-0 lead in the first period with an even-strength goal by Treais and a power play goal by Lindsay Sparks midway through the period.
The Wolverines regained the lead temporarily in the final minute of the second period on a late rush and goal by Kevin Lynch.
Michigan coach Red Berenson said the Wolverine's power play was good early in the game when his team took a 2-0 lead on a power play goal, however, it failed late when it had five minutes to record the game winner.
"The ice wasn't good at the end, but that is no excuse," Berenson said. "We still should have been able to win the game with that power play."
Hunwick, whose availability was in question Saturday after being ejected from Friday's loss, finished with 23 saves for Michigan. NMU sophomore Jared Coreau finished with 25 saves.
Hunwick was tossed from Friday's game after receiving the same penalty Seckel did, however, Hunwick only got a game misconduct with his five-minute major instead of the game disqualification.
Game misconducts result in being ejected from the game while game disqualifications result in an ejection and one-game suspension.
Video and photographic evidence from Friday's 5-3 NMU victory showed Hunwick delivering a blow to the head of NMU senior Andrew Cherniwchan with his blocker during a second-period fight that was sparked by Cherniwchan being pushed into Hunwick and a boarding penalty by Seckel.
Only Cherniwchan and Michigan's Luke Moffatt were suspended for Saturday's game and no ruling came Saturday on further discipline for Hunwick. Neither Cherniwchan or Moffatt were spotted throwing a punch, unlike Hunwick, however both were involved in a bit of a wrestling match prior to be escorted off the ice.