MARQUETTE - The Northern Michigan University hockey team faces a quick turnaround this week after having just returned from Kalamazoo around 6:30 a.m. Sunday following a pair of losses at Western Michigan.
The Wildcats host their heated Upper Peninsula rivals from Houghton - the Michigan Tech Huskies - at 7:35 p.m. tonight at the Berry Events Center in the first of two Tuesday meetings this season.
Game 2 between the Huskies and Wildcats is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 12 in Houghton, with Northern joining Tech in the WCHA at the conclusion of the season.
Northern Michigan University forward Reed Seckel (9) and Michigan Tech forward Milos Gordic get together during a scrum on Dec. 16, 2011, at the Berry Events Center in Marquette during a 4-1 NMU victory last season. The Huskies and Wildcats meet at 7:30 tonight in Marquette. (Journal file photo by Matt Keiser)
"It's a great rivalry. It's a great game for us to play," NMU head coach Walt Kyle said Monday. "They're coming in here to knock us off and we're looking to win this game, as well.
"We need momentum right now and they need a little momentum. It's important."
The short week - more like a long weekend - is great for the Wildcats' ego, which suffered another blow over the weekend via 4-2 and 1-0 CCHA losses to the Broncos at Lawson Ice Arena.
Michigan Tech at Northern Michigan
7:30 p.m., today, Berry Events Center
Teddy Bear Toss: The NMU Student Athlete Advisory Committee encourages fans to bring new stuffed animals for the Teddy Bear Toss that will be held during the first intermission. All stuffed animals will go to the Marine Toys for Tots foundation and will be redistributed to less fortunate children in the area.
Remembering Arianna Alioto: NMU student organizations are encouraging people to wear purple tonight in honor of Wildcat freshman soccer player Arianna Alioto, 18, who drowned Friday following a team workout at the PEIF pool. According to friends, Alioto's favorite color was purple.
The two-days off are not good for the Wildcats' bodies, however, which have become strained due to the number of games missed by teammates due to injuries or suspensions.
"When you're playing a big rival like this, you have to find a way to go through it," Kyle said about the missed time by key players. "I would certainly think there's going to be some energy in the building and that always helps."
The Wildcats were once again without freshman forward Justin Rose and senior forward Matt Thurber for the second straight weekend. Both were suspended by Kyle for a violation of a team rule during the trip and pair of losses to Ohio State.
Junior defenseman CJ Ludwig didn't finish Saturday's 1-0 loss to Western after being tossed from the game for a contact to the head penalty.
He's the third Wildcat this season, along with Thurber and junior forward Erik Higby, to be tossed from a game for contact to the head, but first not to receive a one-game suspension for the violation.
Meanwhile, on the injury front, junior defenseman Wade Epp, sophomore forward Reed Seckel, freshman forward Darren Nowick and Rose have all missed time due to injuries, with a number of unnamed others playing in pain each week.
Kyle wouldn't commit to a lineup Monday due to the short turnaround - it usually isn't until Wednesday or Thursday that decisions are made on statuses - leaving him with plenty of game-day decisions following this morning's team skate both on the injury and discipline front.
"We're more concerned about getting our house in order, playing against a rival and building some momentum," Kyle said.
Northern sits second-to-last in the CCHA at 2-7-3 in league play and 5-8-2 overall, thanks to a 3-1 mark against WCHA opponents in non-conference action.
NMU has only one win in its last eight games - a 4-3 OT decision against Alaska in Marquette - and Kyle has pointed to three areas beyond in the injuries and suspensions as reasons.
The Wildcats' power play is "ineffective" according to Kyle, having only converted on nine of its 63 chances (14.3 percent) while also giving up four shorthanded goals to the opposition.
Kyle said the 'Cats need to "get more pucks to the net" after being outshot 77-35 in two games at Western. NMU is averaging only 22.2 shots per game this season compared to 33.5 by the opposition.
NMU also needs to be "more effective winning faceoffs," said Kyle. NMU lost the faceoff battle against Western 38-16 on Friday before rebounding for a 31-15 advantage on Saturday.
Only playing 54 seconds in the last three games, Thurber continues to lead NMU in scoring with one goal and 11 assists. But sophomore forward Ryan Daugherty took over the team-high of six goals with a marker Friday.
"We got to have guys that do more," Kyle said. "We're 16 games into the year right now, almost at the halfway point. We have some guys we certainly expected more from. They need to expect some more from themselves."
The Huskies, at 3-6-1 in the WCHA and 4-7-1 overall, enter tonight's game coming off a 7-3 loss and 4-4 tie against Minnesota-Duluth in Houghton.
While Northern has a bye this coming weekend, Tech must travel to Madison, Wis., for a two-game WCHA series with Wisconsin.
The Huskies' leading scorer, freshman forward Alex Petan, had three assists in the deadlock with the Bulldogs to bring his season total to four goals and nine assists.
Sophomore forward David Johnstone recorded two goals and an assist to bring his season total to 11 points; sophomore forward Blake Pietila scored in Saturday's tie to bring his season goal total to eight, a team high.
Senior goaltender Kevin Genoe started both nights against UMD, but only made it to the 9:08 mark on Friday after giving up three goals on eight shots.
He made 33 saves on Saturday, leaving his save percentage at .897, goals against average at 3.21 and overall recored at 3-1-1 heading into tonight's non-conference game.
"I certainly have a lot of respect for Mel (Pearson) and his coaching staff," Kyle said. "They have really done a good job over there.
"They've really infused a lot of talent in the last few years. They're a very talented group, particularly at forward."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.