MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University freshman forward Dylan Walchuk has left the team and returned to the Vernon Vipers of the British Columbia Hockey League after only one semester in Marquette.
Walchuk has appeared in all 19 games for the Wildcats this season, recording two goals and six assists to lead all true NMU freshmen in scoring.
The 19-year-old from McBride, B.C., has been a top-line player for the Wildcats in all season, and was teamed with seniors Justin Florek and Tyler Gron for seven of the first eight games to start 2011-12 before head coach Walt Kyle began to mix up the lines.
Walchuk also spent four games paired with redshirt freshman Reed Seckel and junior Matt Thurber before playing with sophomore Erik Higby and junior Kory Kaunisto in Friday's 4-1 victory over Michigan Tech at the Berry Events Center.
Kyle confirmed Walchuk's departure Sunday after the Vipers sent out a release announcing Walchuk's return to the team Saturday night.
Walchuk played for the Vipers the last two seasons, totaling 54 goals and 69 assists in 146 games, including the playoffs.
Northern Michigan University freshman forward Dylan Walchuk brings the puck down the ice against Michigan Tech during the first period on Friday at the Berry Events Center. Walchuk has left Northern after one semester and rejoined his junior team of the previous two seasons, the Vernon Vipers of the British Columbia Hockey League. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Kyle said Walchuk is eligible to return to NMU next season, unlike freshman Eric Walker, who went to play Canadian major junior for the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League after being dismissed by the university.
Like Walker, Walchuk faced charges earlier this season involving stolen bicycles, but the charges against both players were dropped.
Walchuk's departure added to Walker's leaves Northern with 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders.
THURBER, SECKEL, GRON IGNITE OFFENSE
From veterans like Kory Kaunisto to rookies like Walchuk, Wildcat forwards have seemed to find success when teamed with Thurber and Seckel.
Friday against Tech, it was Tyler Gron's turn to cash in for two goals and an assist in the nonconference win. Seckel said it wasn't until Thursday that he and Thurber found out Gron would be their latest linemate this season.
"Thurber and I were like, 'We have another winger, let's make it happen and get some more points,'" Seckel said. "We've been playing good, we haven't been playing bad, but we haven't been putting up that many points. We wanted to take that next step and start putting some pucks in the back of the net."
Seckel, Gron and Thurber all finished plus-3 for the night and besides accounting for three of the team's four goals, they were responsible for 47 percent of the Wildcats' shots on goal as well with 15.
"(Gron) is a goal scorer," Seckel said. "He's a pure goal scorer. We work hard in the corners and get the puck and he buries it for us."
On the first goal of the night, Seckel's strategy actually worked the other way with Gron winning the puck behind the net and feeding Thurber for the initial shot that Seckel then put away for a 1-0 Wildcat lead.
For Kyle, it was nice to see the three all spark each other Friday night.
"They are high risk, high reward, but they are all playmakers," Kyle said. "They have the ability to make plays."
WILDCATS GET A BREAK
The Wildcats get 12 days off before returning to the ice to host the Russian Red Stars in an exhibition game on Dec. 30 at the Berry Events Center and 19 days before playing a regular-season game.
NMU returns to CCHA action Jan. 6-7 against Alaska in Marquette.
For senior Andrew Cherniwchan, the win over Tech was the perfect way to head into an extended break.
"It's always nice to go home for the holidays after a win," Cherniwchan said. "It's that much better. It also motivates you to train harder and come back ready to go."
The Wildcats finish the first half of the 2011-12 season 9-7-3 overall and 5-6-3 in the CCHA - tied for sixth in the league standings with Michigan State and ninth in the PairWise with the Spartans.
If the regular season ended today, NMU would host the Nanooks in the first round of the CCHA playoffs, but in the NCAA tournament.
"We're in a spot where it's important to get every win you can get," Kyle said. "Hopefully we will be able to do that."
Kyle said the extended break comes at a good time after a stressful first half, which included an eight-game winless skid, two players leaving the team and four pleading guilty to misdemeanors of receiving and concealing stolen bicycles.
"I think with everything that has happened around the team, it's been difficult and it's been stressful," Kyle said. "They can go home, let their hair down a little bit, relax and feel good about themselves."
Notes: Cherniwchan had been out of the lineup since NMU was swept at Ohio State Nov. 11-12. Cherniwchan returned Friday for the first time since going down in Columbus and his wrap-around attempt led to a Higby goal putting NMU up 2-0 on Tech. ... Northern finished unbeaten in 10-of-11 games in Marquette for the first half of the year, averaging 3,442 fans a night. ... The Wildcats snapped the seven-game point streak of Tech senior Jordan Baker by holding him to no goal, no assists and no shots on goal Friday. ... The Huskies' power play came into Friday's game ranked 11th in the nation with a 22.8 percent success rate. The Wildcats' penalty kill, now at No. 3 in the nation with a 90.1 percent success rate, killed all five of Tech's advantages, including a 5-on-3. NMU now ranks second in the nation behind Yale in combined special teams. NMU is third in penalty minutes averaging 19.5 per game.