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Former Badger Matt Thurber leads Northern Michigan to season-opening sweep of Wisconsin in Green Bay

October 14, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

ASHWAUBENON, Wis. - All Northern Michigan University senior Matt Thurber wanted was a couple of goals and a couple of wins over his old team in his home state.

Thurber only got one goal, but he did get two wins.

That's good enough for him.

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"It feels good," Thurber said. "No matter who it is, it always feels good to win a game."

The Beaver Dam, Wis. native and University of Wisconsin castaway assisted on the first game-tying goal Saturday and scored the second goal that knotted it up in the Wildcats' 4-2 victory over the Badgers for a season-opening series sweep in front of 4,900 fans at the Resch Center in Wisconsin.

In four games over the past two seasons against the team he suited up 42 times for from 2008-09, Thurber posted a goal and four assists in three wins and a loss.

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Northern Michigan University junior forward Kory Kaunisto tries to move the puck past Wisconsin sophomore defenseman Jake McCabe during the first period on Saturday at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon, Wis. Kaunisto scored the game-winning goal that gave Northern a 4-2 win over the Badgers. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)

"Good for Matt. Really good for Matt," said Badgers' coach Mike Eaves, who recruited Thurber to play at UW before dismissing him. "It was a tough situation and he had a choice also. He had a choice and he decided to go on and play and move on with his life and control the things he can control. He's done that. For Matt, that's a good thing.

"He's a real tough competitor and he's hard to contain and has a low center of gravity. He competes his fanny off and we saw that in junior hockey and that's one of his strengths."

Thurber was dismissed from the Badgers during the 2009-10 season for a violation of team rules stemming from a dispute with his then girlfriend. He transferred to NMU during the offseason and sat out the 2010-11 year per NCAA rules.

In his return to college hockey on Oct. 7, 2011, Thurber posted two assists in the Wildcats' 3-2 overtime win against the Badgers at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.

The Badgers prevailed the next night with three unanswered goals to split the series.

Thurber's third assist against UW came 18 seconds into the third period on Friday as sophomore Reed Seckel, who missed Saturday's win with an injury, tied the game at 1-1.

The fourth assist by Thurber came Saturday in the second period on the second collegiate goal for freshman Cohen Adair.

Thurber finally got the goal he'd been hoping for at 12:18 of the third period to tie the game at 2-2 with junior forward Kory Kaunisto of Sault Ste. Marie scoring the game-winner just over a minute later.

Sophomore forward Ryan Daugherty added an empty-net goal for NMU with 1:08 to play, sending the mostly red and white crowd for the exists.

"Wisconsin has always had a great program, has always had high-end guys," Thurber said. "We found ways to win, but like (NMU head coach Walt Kyle) said earlier, it could have been the other way around.

"All the games have been close games and it comes down to little mistakes and who makes the right plays on them."

Kyle made it a point after the game to express how exceptionally happy he was for Thurber to get two wins his senior year over Wisconsin.

Like Thurber, Kyle was a transfer student, playing two seasons at Boston College from 1976-78 before transferring to NMU for the 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons.

"I never had a chance to play against Boston College," Kyle said. "I had no bitter feelings about Boston College. (Thurber) had no bitter feelings about Wisconsin. It is what it is, but it has to be rewarding for him to play the way he did and for us to get a win."

The Badgers - who have lost five of their last six games against Northern, all in the state of Wisconsin - struck first for the second night in a row, but this time the score came much quicker.

Wisconsin junior defenseman Frankie Simonelli put a fluttering puck past NMU junior goaltender Jared Coreau from the blue line only three minutes into the game.

Wisconsin was held scoreless in the second period, but retook the lead 18 seconds into the third - the same time NMU tied Friday's game - via a goal by junior forward Mark Zengerle.

But just like Friday, the Wildcats rallied in the third by putting pucks into the Badgers' net and stifling the UW offense.

After being held to five third-period shots on Friday, the Badgers only mustered two on Saturday and eight total over Saturday's final 40 minutes.

Combining Friday and Saturday's numbers, the Badgers posted 22 shots in the first periods, and only 18 in the second and third periods combined.

Kyle said putting pucks in the right places and forechecking were important factors in creating those stats, but the real determining factor was not seen on the ice Friday or Saturday.

The key came from the work put in Monday through Wednesday at the Berry Events Center, and sometimes Lakeview Arena.

"The mentality that we have, the belief that we have, is we are going to win third periods on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday when these guys' lungs are jabbing their rib cage and it sucks to be at the end of practice because we're killing them," Kyle said. "We talk about winning third periods. These guys are down 2-1 and they find a way to get it done and they're patient and I was really proud of them."

NOTES: Coreau finished with 18 saves after making 19 on Friday. ... Landon Peterson got the start in the Badger net over fellow sophomore Joel Rumpel. Peterson finished with 27 saves. ... The Wildcats took only three penalties for six minutes each night after being one of the most penalized teams in the CCHA over the past two seasons. ... On the power play, NMU was 1 for 4 both nights. ... In addition to junior defenseman Wade Epp, who missed Friday's game as well, four other Wildcats who appeared in the Game 1 victory missed Saturday's game. Freshman forward Ryan Aynsley and Seckel were out due to injury while junior defenseman Austin Handley and freshman forward Robert Lindores were healthy scratches. Seckel, a former Green Bay Gambler, scored the game-tying goal on Friday 18 seconds into the third period.



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