MARQUETTE - Despite being one of the most penalized teams in all of NCAA Division I college hockey, the Northern Michigan University penalty kill has stood tall, down one man or two, for two minutes or five.
This weekend, however Ferris State took it down a notch by going 4 for 9 on the power play after picking up another goal on the man advantage Saturday night to beat the Wildcats 3-1 in CCHA play at the Berry Events Center.
On Friday, the Bulldogs were 3 for 5 on the power play in a 5-5 shootout loss. Ferris took a 2-1 lead that night by converting on its first two man advantages and then tied the game at 4-4 on the power play.
"They are really good," NMU head coach Walt Kyle said about the Bulldogs. "We played them 2-1 tonight, but we had a real - I don't want to say spotty effort because it's always there. Our cohesiveness and what we were doing was not real good tonight."
The three goals allowed were the most power play goals NMU had allowed in a game all season and four is the most NMU has allowed in a weekend. The previous high for a game was two and for a weekend, three were scored by Alaska in Marquette.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs converted on their first power play of the night to take a 1-0 lead. The Wildcats were five seconds away from completing the kill when FSU senior defenseman Chad Billins beat NMU sophomore goaltender Jared Coreau.
Northern Michigan University's Justin Florek, left, and Ferris State's Kyle Bonis vie for the puck near the boards during the first period on Saturday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"(The penalty kill) is not very good," Kyle said. "The one guy, (Junior forward Matt) Thurber, got beat on an easy play and he's really got to do a better job on that."
The Bulldogs struck again with five seconds remaining in the first period via an even-strength score by sophomore defenseman Scott Czarnowczan, who was later knocked out of the game in the second period.
NMU junior forward Brian Nugent was tossed from the game for the check from behind on Czarnowczan and will be suspended one game via the game disqualification.
The Wildcats, who took 12 penalties for 35 minutes this weekend, were able to kill off Nugent's five-minute major after allowing back-to-back FSU power play goals going back to the third-period Bulldog score on Friday.
NMU would kill the next two Bulldog power plays, but the damage had been done.
"The way they spread us out, we weren't really expecting that this week," NMU senior forward Justin Florek said. "We just have to have a big week in practice and really focus on (the penalty kill). It's something we really pride ourselves on and this week they really hurt us."
NMU redshirt freshmen Reed Seckel scored the lone NMU goal by cutting the Bulldog lead in half with a power play goal at 1:46 of the first period. He did it unassisted after weaving through the FSU PK and beating Ferris freshman netminder CJ Motte high.
The Wildcats appeared to have the game tied with 3:40 remaining in regulation via a goal by senior Andrew Cherniwchan, but the score was waved off because Florek had been called for roughing following a strong hit along the boards before the shot was taken.
Following the hit in question, Cherniwchan took a pass from Florek, moved to Motte's right and buried the shot, all without a whistle being blown.
It wasn't until after the horn quit blowing that the officials held a discussion and kept the point off the scoreboard.
It was a call that left NMU - whether it was right or wrong - baffled after the game.
"(The ref) said the guy had his head down and you can't have blind-sided hits anymore," Florek said, recapping the referee's explanation. "I really thought it was a legal hit. He was facing me.
"I'm not a guy to take penalties. I think I might have the least penalties in Northern's history. It's just a tough call to make, especially given the explanation he gave me."
What was just as tough for Florek, was the delay in making the call, though he admits it wasn't why the Wildcats lost.
Northern had three looks at the net in which it couldn't get a shot on Motte following the no-goal.
Still, it stung.
"That's the thing that's really tough," Florek said. "Cherni had the puck on his stick for over five seconds I would say. They easily had time to blow the play down. I think the guy laying there kind of embellished it a bit and made it a penalty.
"It's one play in the game. We had so many different chances and a couple breakdowns. It could have went either way. That one play doesn't determine a game. It's the whole game."
Coreau finished with 28 saves while Motte made 24 saves for Ferris. Both young goaltenders got the start Saturday after FSU senior Taylor Nelson and NMU senior Reid Ellingson each allowed five goals the night before.
Northern now hits the road for back-to-back series starting with a trip to Bowling Green State next weekend and a rematch with Michigan in Ann Arbor.
NMU closes the regular season at home against Lake Superior State in Marquette on Feb. 24-25.
With six games to play, the margin of error is as thin as ever, according to Seckel for the ninth-place Wildcats.
"From here on out, we can't afford to lose any more games," Seckel said. "If we lost one more game, that'd be it. We have to know it's go time. There is no more holding back. "We're sitting in ninth place in the league. We look at that board and we don't think we're ninth place, but are we there, yeah.
"We find a way to lose those tough ones and Ferris State came in and stole that second game from us. Even that first game it shouldn't have went to a shootout.
"We just have to go to Bowling Green and know that there is no more time for losing."
Notes: NMU entered the weekend with the sixth-best penalty kill in the nation with an 87-percent kill rate. NMU had an 86.5 percent kill rate in CCHA games.
... Ferris State retook the lead in the CCHA following a loss by first-place Western Michigan to Alaska at home ... Northern is five points back of Michigan State and LSSU, which are tied for seventh. Ohio State, Notre Dame and Miami are six points ahead in fourth place. ... Ferris is only the second team to win in Marquette this year with MSU being the other. NMU is 5-2-5 at the Berry Events Center. ... Ferris is the first team to beat Coreau at the BEC. Coreau fell to 5-1-1 at home. ... NMU fell to 5-7-2 on Saturday nights compared to a 7-3-4 record on Fridays.