MARQUETTE - The Northern Michigan University hockey team lost much more than just a shootout Friday night at the Berry Events Center.
The Wildcats lost ground in the CCHA standings, missing out on a chance to tie Lake Superior State for fourth place.
Northern lost out on a chance to further secure its spot in the NCAA tournament, slipping in the PairWise rankings.
And the 'Cats may have lost another body in sophomore forward Erik Higby, who was taken to the hospital after being hit from behind along the boards.
Friday was officially a tie game in the NCAA record books, but to the Wildcats, it felt like a heart-wrenching defeat.
"We fell short. It feels like a loss," NMU senior goaltender Reid Ellingson said. "We blew a lead and we need to get back on track winning tomorrow.
Northern Michigan University's Justin Florek skates the puck out of the defensive zone with Alaska’s Carlo Finucci on his tail during the first period Friday night at the Berry Events Center. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Northern Michigan's Stephan Vigier skates the puck out to center ice during the first period against Alaska on Friday. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"It's just a bummer we couldn't get those three points."
Northern failed to start 2012 off on the right skate by tying the Alaska Nanooks 2-2 and falling in the shootout afterward 1-0 in the first CCHA contest for either school in the new year.
The Wildcats (9-7-4 overall, 5-6-4 CCHA) took a 2-0 lead into the third period after getting goals by senior forward Justin Florek of Marquette on the power play and by redshirt freshman forward Reed Seckel on a turnover 1:30 before the second intermission.
Alaska (7-9-3 overall, 4-8-3 CCHA) clawed back, however, by outshooting NMU 17-4 over the final 25 minutes of the third period and overtime.
The Nanooks cut the NMU lead in half with a goal by sophomore forward Cody Kunyk 7:41 into the third and sophomore forward Colton Beck registered the game-tying goal on a power play with 9:06 to play in regulation to force overtime and a shootout.
"I was happy with the first two periods," NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. "I thought the second period we were really good.
"I thought we just quit executing and quit playing hard in the third. We had a lot of guys who just played lazy hockey in the third and wanted it to be easy. We didn't execute the little things well."
Junior forward Nik Yaremchuk had the lone goal in the shootout for Alaska while Seckel, senior forward Tyler Gron and freshman defenseman Mitch Jones all came up empty against Nanook senior goaltender Scott Greenham for NMU.
Greenham only needed to make 21 saves, plus three more in the shootout to give his team two points in the CCHA standings and keep Alaska in 10th.
After being tied for sixth with Michigan State coming into the night, NMU slipped into a tie for seventh with Miami at 21 points. State fell to ninth after losing to Miami and Michigan jumped three spots into a tie with Ferris State for fifth at 22 points.
The Lakers remain fourth despite the loss at Michigan with 23 points.
"It wasn't what we were looking for," Seckel said. "We got up two goals and I guess we got a little comfy. They are a good team over there. They played hard, they got right on us and took over."
Ellingson, who started his first game in goal for NMU since being yanked in a 6-3 loss at LSSU on Dec. 10, made 30 saves, including one in the shootout. Another shot he forced high and away.
Ellingson made 15 saves in the third period and overtime, including on the potential game winner for Alaska in extra time.
"We had our best guys tonight not play very good, with the exception of Reid Ellingson," Kyle said. "I was really happy with him. There were times in the third he kept us in the game when we weren't very good."
The Wildcats, who are already down to 23 eligible players after the dismissal of freshman Erik Walker and departure of freshman Dylan Walchuk, lost Higby early in the second period after the sophomore forward was hit from behind into the boards.
No penalty was called on the play - though NMU freshman Ryan Daugherty was called for boarding minutes later near the NMU bench - as Higby limped off the ice and was helped back to the bench by Florek.
Higby was attended to on the NMU bench by Wildcats athletic trainer Kris Rowe and Dr. John Lehtinen before emergency medical personnel were summoned to the locker room. Higby left the arena for further medical attention following the second period.
Kyle had no information about Higby's status following the game, except that he was taken to the hospital. Higby's status for today's 7:35 p.m. rematch between Alaska and Northern is unknown.
Besides goaltenders Jared Coreau and Devan Hartigan, the Wildcats had two other healthy scratches on Friday - forwards Jake Johnson, a sophomore, and D.J. Vandercook, a freshman.
"We still have guys," Kyle said. "As long as we still have one guy at each position out there, we'll roll through. There's little difference between any of our guys right now."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.