MARQUETTE - The Northern Michigan University hockey team entered the season lacking a proven goal scorer among its 18 returning players from a year ago and head coach Walt Kyle was hesitant to rely on any of the five freshmen projected to crack the lineup.
Freshman forward Cohen Adair has changed the coach's tune, just a bit.
"He's a guy we absolutely expect to provide offense to us," Kyle said. "He's going to have his ups and downs like every other freshman. We absolutely anticipate that, as well."
Northern Michigan University freshman forward Cohen Adair battles Wisconsin junior defenseman Chase Drake along the boards during the first period of a nonconference game on Friday at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon, Wis. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Adair showed over the weekend in Green Bay his exhibition goal against Brock University was no fluke, scoring twice against the Wisconsin Badgers to give the Wildcats - ranked No. 17 by USCHO and No. 15 by USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine - a season-opening sweep and himself the CCHA's Rookie of the Week honors.
He scored the game winning goal - the first regular season goal of his collegiate career - on the power play Friday by bouncing the puck off the skate of a Badger defenseman 9:07 into the third period, putting Northern up 2-1.
Saturday, Adair tied the game at 1-1 in the second period. After taking a pass from senior defenseman and captain Scott Macaulay, Adair took Badger goaltender Landon Peterson one direction and the puck another, giving himself an empty net in which to bury the puck.
"I definitely wasn't expecting to get any points," Adair said. "I just wanted to go out there and work as hard as I can and the goals just came.
"I wouldn't say I did too much on the goals. I give a lot of credit to my teammates."
Adair was surprised by his points, but his linemate, junior forward Erik Higby, wasn't.
Higby, who assisted on Adair's exhibition goal against Brock in Marquette on Oct. 7, sees a bright offensive future for his teammate.
"He's just a big body," Higby said. "Most of the time, I'm there on the puck right away and he'll just come in, pick it up and he'll have a guy chasing him.
"He'll take it right to the net. He's creating a lot of offense just off his size alone."
At 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, Adair is more than just a big body in front of the net, according to Kyle. It showed in his goal Saturday that came off a strong pass by Macaulay.
Kyle even went as far as to compare Adair to Marquette native Justin Florek, who now plays for the Providence Bruins on the AHL after finishing up four years at NMU last spring.
"When you get the puck to (Adair) around the front of the net, he can score. He's big enough and strong enough that he can go there," Kyle said.
"He's got really good hands for a big guy. He can catch passes, receive passes and has a good shot down there. I'll relate it to Florek.
"Florek is a bigger man who has a bigger reach," the coach added. " It took Justin awhile to develop those hands and that shot from within there.
"This guy is no Florek. I'm not comparing him to Justin, but he's got some of those same attributes up front that Justin has."
Adair, a native of Stratford, Ontario, played the previous two seasons for the Powell River Kings in the British Columbia Hockey League, scoring 56 goals and 46 assists in back-to-back trips to the league championship series that Powell lost.
River Kings head coach and general manager Kent Lewis, a friend of Kyle's, personally recommended Adair.
But the Wildcats couldn't get assistant coach Joe Shawhan out to Powell River quick enough. Another school had originally beaten the Wildcats to the player.
"If Kent is going to recommend a kid as highly as he is going to recommend Cohen, we want to be involved," Kyle said.
"Joey flew out and called me and exactly the comment was, 'Good news and bad news. I really like him, but he's committed to Providence.' We were a day late."
Two months later, the Wildcats were back in the running, however, after Adair - a computer science major - got his financial aid report from the Friars of Hockey East. He was due to pay much more for his education than originally expected.
"I heard really good things about the (Providence) coach and the school, but the scholarship didn't work out as planned," Adair said.
"Coming to Northern, I heard even better things about the coach. I didn't even come for a visit before I committed.
"I talked to a few people, a couple alumni that went here years ago that knew Walt," he added. "I heard a lot of good things, even from my coach in Powell River. He likes Walt a lot and recommended it, for sure."
Adair will look to continue his scoring streak this weekend when NMU makes the 16-hour trip to play former CCHA rival Nebraska-Omaha at 8:35 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday.
The Mavericks, who moved to the WCHA in 2010 and will be a charter member of the NCHC next season, are coming off a 5-1 win over Army and 3-2 loss to Notre Dame in the Icebreaker in Kansas City.
Omaha's seven goals came from seven different players, but Kyle doesn't plan to shake up the game plan to combat the Mavs. Kyle said his team will rely on junior goaltender Jared Coreau and its experienced defensive group.
If Adair's scoring streak continues, that's a plus for the Wildcats, Kyle said.
"If he can be a consistent guy for us and get in the teens or over 10 goals, that would be a very good freshman year," Kyle said. "If he can do anything like that, it would certainly be a big bonus for us."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.