MARQUETTE - Opportunistic.
That's exactly what the Northern Michigan University hockey team was over the weekend as it vaulted three spots to seventh in the CCHA standings via a 2-1 victory against the Miami RedHawks on Friday and a 5-1 rout in the rematch on Saturday.
From the power play to the penalty kill to even strength; from the first line to the fourth line to the men in goal; the Wildcats took advantage of what the Miami RedHawks and head coach Walt Kyle presented over the weekend at the Berry Events Center.
Because the Wildcats were opportunistic, they were rewarded with their first sweep of the season in league play to improve to 7-6-3 on the year overall and 4-5-3 in CCHA play.
"We knew tonight Miami was going to be a much better team," Kyle said. "They came out early and we were able to weather the storm and recollect ourselves. I give a lot of credit to the leadership on our team."
Kyle gave credit to the Wildcats' fourth line of freshmen Ryan Kesti, D.J. Vandercook and Ryan Daugherty for turning the tide in Saturday's game.
Northern Michigan University goalie Reid Ellingson makes a glove save on a shot by Miami's Reilly Smith, top right, while the Wildcats’ Scott Macaulay skates in to help during the first period Saturday evening at the Berry Events Center. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Northern was outshot 5-1 in the first five minutes as Miami came out as gangbusters less than 24 hours after giving up the game-winning goal to Northern two 2:10 to play in Friday's game.
A single shift by Kesti, Vandercook and Daugherty, quickly shifted the momentum in the Wildcats' favor, culminating in a Stephan Vigier goal giving Northern a 1-0 lead and evening the shot count at 5-5.
"I think our fourth line of Kesti, Vandercook and Daugherty kind of changed the game for us," Kyle said. "They got the one goal for us and the way that they played, it was Northern hockey the way we want to play. They turned the game around for us and from that point on, I thought we were very good."
Goals by Period 1 2 3 Tot
Miami............... 1 0 0 - 1
Northern Michigan... 2 1 2 - 5
1st period - 1, NMU, Stephan Vigier/7 (Ryan Daugherty/1, DJ
Vandercook/1) 7:42. 2, NMU, Justin Florek/8 (Kyle Follmer/9, Tyler
Gron/5) 12:36 (pp). 3, MIAMI, Austin Czarnik/6 (Joe Hartman/2) 12:45
(sh). Penalties - TEAM, MIAMI (too many players on ice) 11:16; Will
Weber, MIAMI (hitting after whistle) 12:24; Justin Florek, NMU
(tripping) 12:52; Stephan Vigier, NMU (o-tripping) 19:12; Tyler Biggs,
MIAMI (cross-checking) 19:19.
2nd period - 4, NMU, Reed Seckel/3 (Matt Thurber/8, Jake Baker/2)
13:22. Penalties - Blake Coleman, MIAMI (interference) 5:33; Steven
Spinell, MIAMI (tripping) 8:13; Tyler Biggs, MIAMI (elbowing) 10:56;
Austin Handley, NMU (interference) 14:12; Trent Vogelhuber, MIAMI
3rd period - 5, NMU, Justin Florek/9 (Mitch Jones/4, Tyler Gron/6)
:48 (pp). 6, NMU, Stephan Vigier/8 (Scott Macaulay/7, Tyler Gron/7)
12:36 (pp). Penalties - Will Weber, MIAMI (roughing) :26; Mitch Jones,
NMU (checking from behind) 2:42; Mitch Jones, NMU (game misconduct)
2:42; Jimmy Mullin, MIAMI (tripping) 9:46; Chris Wideman, MIAMI
(cross-checking) 10:39; Garrett Kennedy, MIAMI (cross-checking) 11:17;
Tyler Biggs, MIAMI (checking from behind) 13:50; Tyler Biggs, MIAMI
(game misconduct) 13:50; Scott Macaulay, NMU (interference) 16:13;
Austin Handley, NMU (unsportsmanlike conduct) 16:53; Blake Coleman,
MIAMI (unsportsmanlike conduct) 16:53.
Shots on goal - MIAMI 10-10-9 29; NMU 12-5-10 27.
Power plays - MIAMI 0 of 4; NMU 3 of 12.
Penalties - MIAMI 14 (39 min); NMU 7 (25 min).
Goalies - MIAMI, Cody Reichard 6-4-2 (60:00 minutes, 27 shots-22
saves); NMU, Reid Ellingson 4-5-2 (60:00, 29-28).
The goal came on a sustained rush and peppering of Miami goaltender Cody Reichard by the Wildcats' fourth line, with Kesti being the first to slip off the ice as Northern began to make a gradual line change.
As Kesti stepped off, Daugherty and Vandercook continued to battle behind the net, eventually finding Kesti's replacement, Vigier, flying into the zone unnoticed by the Miami defense for the easy score.
The effort of Vandercook, who was only making his second collegiate appearance, and Daugherty didn't just lead to the Vigier goal, but the assists awarded were their first points as collegiate hockey players.
"Kesti, Daugherty and Vandercook were out there battling down low," Vigier said. "Kesti came for a change and I just went to the front of the net and the puck squirted to me. I just backhanded it in, put it home.
"That line started it for us. They were working down low and doing what they are capable of doing - battling and having time of possession out there. That's probably what changed the game."
Northern posted three of its next four goals with a two-man advantage. Only sophomore Reed Seckel, who hadn't scored a goal in 11 games after posting two in his first three contests, tallied an even-strength goal the rest of the night at 13:22 of the second period.
Senior forward Justin Florek of Marquette had two of the 5-on-3 power play goals while Vigier had the other.
Both of Florek's 5-on-3 power play goals came with an assist from Miami's Will Weber, who followed up a Miami bench minor in the first period for too many men on the ice with a hitting after the whistle penalty. In the third period, Weber was called four roughing after teammate Trent Vogelhuber was called at the end of the second period for tripping.
Vigier's 5-on-3 power play goal came via cross checks by Chris Wideman and Garrett Kennedy, who took out Wildcats less than 40 seconds apart.
For Florek, Saturday's game was a bit of a shocker with the Wildcats being called for less penalties than their opponents, something that has only happened three times this season.
"We were very opportunistic," Florek said. "We used our heads. It's been a long time since a team has took more penalties than us. It's a great feeling and that's something we preach. It paid off for us."
Miami was called for twice as many penalties than NMU on Saturday - Miami, 14 penalties for 39 minutes and NMU, seven for 25 minutes - and Northern had three times as many power plays, 12-4.
Kyle was especially impressed with his team's ability to keep its composure after it lost its cool on Nov. 19 against Michigan State.
That night, three players - Scott Macaulay, Kyle Follmer and Wade Epp - were involved in an after the buzzer scuffle that led to all three being suspended Friday night.
Northern had to play with only five defensemen the whole night Friday and while Mitch Jones' check from behind in the third period put NMU back in that position on Saturday, it was a much easier challenge to overcome.
Five defensemen for one period is much easier than playing short a man for three periods.
"Walt was talking to us on the bench and we knew from last weekend in the State game, we lost three guys because of a couple late fights," said Vigier, who took a cheap shot after scoring his second goal of the night, but didn't retaliate. "We knew we had to be smart and it helped us big time in the end.
"Missing three of our top D-men is a tough thing to go through. We learned from it and I think it helped us tonight."
Senior Reid Ellingson made 28 saves for Northern in goal on Saturday after sophomore Jared Coreau made 25 the night before.
Ellingson was forced to turn away a number of shorthanded breakaways on Saturday when NMU only had a one-man advantage - Miami did score on one shorthanded chance - while Coreau was bombarded by the RedHawks in the third period Friday.
The performance of both again reassured Kyle that he has two elite goaltenders that he can ride throughout the season.
"Reid Ellingson came in tonight and made some huge, huge saves," Kyle said.
"We've said all year we have two guys we feel really good about. To me they are both growing and continuing to get better. We're going to keep them both in there. We're going to keep them both active. If they continue to play the way they are, that's a huge bonus for us."