MARQUETTE - Two goals by a pair of freshman forwards helped the No. 16 Northern Michigan University hockey team keep pace with No. 9 Notre Dame on Saturday night at the Berry Events Center.
The goals couldn't prevent the Fighting Irish from leaving Marquette with a CCHA-opening weekend sweep, however.
"It sucks still," NMU freshman forward Cohen Adair said. "You can play your best game, but at the end, you're still losing. It's no fun when you're lose."
Adair tied the game at 1-1 in his return to the scoring sheet in the second period while fellow rookie forward Darren Nowick pulled NMU within one goal early in the third period, but the Irish held off a late NMU charge for a 3-2 victory on Saturday to go along with the dominating 5-2 win on Friday in Marquette.
Adair, who is tied with sophomore Ryan Daugherty for a team high of three goals, tied the game 7:56 into the second period by sneaking a wrap around past Notre Dame senior netminder Mike Johnson.
It was Adair's first goal since scoring in each of the Wildcats' wins over Wisconsin in Green Bay and it came with new linemates - senior forward Matt Thurber and freshman forward Ryan Aynsley, who both assisted on the goal.
Northern Michigan’s Stephan Vigier, front, moves the puck as a Notre Dame defender follows close behind during the first period at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Saturday. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
"I feel like I like playing with them," Adair said about Thurber and Aynsley. "They talk a lot. Thurbs, he'll give you the puck if you're open. I like that about him. Aynsley works pretty hard. I think we did pretty well tonight. Hopefully we stay together for a bit."
Nowick picked up his second goal of the season to cut the Irish lead to one 5:46 into the third period. Nowick's goal was partially the work of junior defenseman Kyle Follmer, who broke into the Irish zone, and sophomore forward Reed Seckel, who fed the freshman with a pass from behind the net of Johnson.
Adair and Aynsley nearly sent the game into overtime in the closing seconds, but Aynsley was unable to get a full stick on the rebound from Adair's initial shot and the puck slipped wide before being cleared to safety.
"You just want to get the puck in and fire on net as many times as you can. That's all you try to do in that situation."
Kyle completely shuffled the Wildcats forward lines and defensive pairings Saturday in response to the 5-2 defeat that saw NMU outshot 17-6 in the third period period.
For the first time all season, including the exhibition, Adair found himself separated from junior center Erik Higby and for the second time this season, freshman Justin Rose wasn't with Higby and Adair either. Rose was a scratch.
Higby centered Nowick and Seckel line while sophomore DJ Vandercook jumped in with one of the rare duos that was preserved - Daugherty and junior Stephan Vigier.
"I thought Adair, Aynsley and Thurber were real good," Kyle said. "I thought Higby, Nowick and Seckel were very good as well. I thought those guys played good. Sometimes you have to shake the tree a little bit. Sometimes it's who they are with. Sometimes it's just that you shook it.
"When those two lines were on the ice, I thought they played very well."
On defense, Kyle broke up the shutdown duo of juniors Wade Epp and C.J. Ludwig, matching Epp with sophomore Mitch Jones and Ludwig with sophomore Jake Baker while freshman Ryan Trenz rotated in as the seventh defenseman.
Trenz and Ludwig eventually became locked together when Baker had to leave the game in the second period after being checked - legally - hard, into the air and into the glass.
"As far as switching up D parings, we're just trying to get something going," Ludwig said. "We didn't produce like we wanted to (Friday) night. It wasn't a good night for us so we're just trying to switch things up and see if we can't get something new going, just trying to get a little spark for us."
All three of the Irish goals on Saturday came in the second period after a scoreless first.
Notre Dame senior Nick Larson snuck a puck through the five hole of Wildcats junior goaltender Jared Coreau 3:13 into the second period for the first Irish lead of the night.
The second Irish lead was acquired in similar fashion, but this time it was freshman Steven Fogarty scoring his first collegiate goal at the 9:02 mark. He banked in another goal at 18:33 of the second period on the power play to put Notre Dame up by two.
"That's what I expected out of Northern Michigan when I saw them on film," Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. "They had just as much of an opportunity to win that game as we did. They competed hard. They did a lot of things much better than (Friday) night as far as their physical play. I thought they created a lot of turnovers, they put a lot of pressure on us.
"It was kind of a tale of two games in some ways and we were just fortunate we scored that flukey power play goal in the second period."
Coreau finished with 29 saves for NMU while Johnson made 26 saves in his first start of the season over junior Steven Summerhays.
The Wildcat power play fell to 0-14 in its last four games - three of which were losses - after converting once in each of the 'Cats first two games against Wisconsin in Green Bay.
The Wildcats will remain at home next weekend, hosting No. 6 Michigan on Friday and Saturday night at the Berry Events Center.
The Wolverines are coming off of a split with No. 3 Miami in Ann Arbor.
"We're always fired up to play Michigan and we're fired up to play everyone, especially playing in our barn," Ludwig said. "We definitely can't lay an egg next week. We can't come out of here with no points. We have to find a way to win."