MARQUETTE - Luckily for those members of the Northern Michigan University hockey team who traveled home for the holidays, there were plenty of places to lose their midseason report cards from head coach Walt Kyle.
Convenience store trash cans, TSA check points in airports and the Straits of Mackinac were all suitable places to dump a status report that only goaltenders Jared Coreau and Michael Doan could stand to show mom and dad this season.
At 6-10-3 overall, in last place in the CCHA with only two league wins and a lone victory on the road, the Wildcats' 2012 midseason report card is by no means fit for the family fridge.
NMU sophomore forward Ryan Daugherty
(Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Both nationally and in the CCHA, the Wildcats rank in the bottom third of every major statistical category except for the only one you don't want to sit high in - penalty minutes.
Northern leads the league's 11 schools in that category and is fifth among the 59 NCAA Division I teams nationally, averaging 15.3 penalty minutes a game.
"We're not happy where we are at the bottom," Kyle said. "We've been inconsistent."
NMU leading goal scorers
(Through 19 games)
Ryan Daugherty, So, F6
Reed Seckel, So, F5
Cohen Adair, Fr, F5
NMU plus/minus leaders
(Through 19 games)
Wade Epp, Jr, D+4
Jake Johnson, Jr, F+4
Reed Seckel, So, F+3
Matt Thurber, Sr, F+2
Ryan?Trenz, Fr, D+2
Justin Rose, Fr, F+2
Northern Michigan at St. Cloud State, Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. and Jan. 5 at 8:30 p.m.
Below are Kyle's grades for not only his team, but himself after 19 games. The grade for the coaching staff is a first for Kyle in the three season's he's shared grades with The Mining Journal.
If not for the performances of a few, Kyle would have hit the Wildcats' forwards - those most responsible for the team's offense, or lack there of - a lot harder than he did.
"As a group, I would tell you I'm disappointed," Kyle said. "I think within that group there are some good performances.
"Offensively you have to say we haven't done as good of a job as we'd hoped guys were able to do."
Offensively, the Wildcats rank ninth in the CCHA and 50th nationally, averaging 2.05 goals per game.
Only four times in 19 games have the 'Cats scored more than two goals in a game with the offensive low point coming in the final series of the semester against Lake Superior State when NMU was held to a single goal.
"At the end of the day, you have to say your forwards to a large degree are responsible for providing some form of offense and we haven't done that," Kyle said.
A trio of underclassmen are currently keeping the group's grade up.
Sophomore Ryan Daugherty has doubled his goal total of last year and leads NMU in goals scored with six. He sits fourth in points with nine.
Like Daugherty, freshman Cohen Adair's start to his collegiate career has been a surprise for Kyle. Adair is second in goals scored with five - plus one assist - but he's been kept off the scoresheet for 11-straight games. He hasn't scored since Nov. 3 against Michigan.
Tied for second in goals scored with Adair is sophomore Reed Seckel. He's only appeared in 16 of the 19 games due to injuries, but Seckel is third in points with his five goals and six assists after scoring eight goals and 12 assists as a redshirt freshman.
"I think you have to say Ryan Daugherty has had a very good year for what he's done," Kyle said.
"Seckel had performed to the level that we expected him to. He's at about the same place as he was a year ago.
"Cohen Adair's start was really outstanding and surprised us a little bit.
"After that, we're disappointed in some of the output."
Junior Stephan Vigier and senior Matt Thurber lead the Wildcats in scoring with 12 points each, however, they only have a combined four goals.
Thurber has one goal and 11 assists, but hasn't registered a point since Nov. 10. He's only appeared in two full games since then after getting tossed 54 seconds into a Nov. 16 game against Ohio State, being suspended by the CCHA for the Nov. 17 game because of his contact to the head penalty and being suspended by Kyle for four games for a violation of team rules. Thurber then sat out Game 2 against LSSU on Dec. 15.
Vigier has three goals and nine assists for his 12 points, but a leg injury suffered against Alaska has slowed his output with two assists in his last five games.
Like the forwards, the play of a few - senior Scott Macaulay and junior C.J. Ludwig - is boosting the blue liners' grade.
Unlike the forwards, however, Northern's struggles defensively are a surprise.
The Wildcats lost three key components up front in Tyler Gron, Justin Florek of Marquette and Andrew Cherniwchan while returning seven defensemen, including the six regulars from a year ago.
"I think that's the biggest area I'm most disappointed in," Kyle said. "Going into the year, we thought we would really be strong at that position."
NMU is ninth in the CCHA in scoring defense and 40th nationally, giving up an average of 2.84 goals per game. On top of that, opponents are averaging 33.4 shots on goal a night against NMU.
Just as concerning to Kyle, however, is the defensemen's inefficiency at moving the puck, specifically on the road. Those struggles are contributing to a Wildcat offense only averaging 22.7 shots per game.
"We are a tale of two teams," Kyle said. "We're a vastly different team in this building (the Berry Events Center) than we are on the road. I think in this building, we move the puck fairly efficient. I think we're better offensively and we get more chances in this building with our forwards."
Even after being yanked from three games this season, Coreau has seen more action than any goaltender in NCAA Div. I hockey through Christmas.
Coreau's 545 saves and 1,099 minutes both lead the nation with only Ferris State's C.J. Motte coming close with 483 saves and 1,010 minutes.
"I think Jared has been good," Kyle said. "He's had to make a lot of saves. We've given up far too many shots. When pucks are going at the net, some pucks that shouldn't go in are going to go in. That's happened. He's also made saves we shouldn't ask him to make."
The barrage of shots had led to less than stellar numbers for Coreau through 19 games. His 2.78 goals against average ranks 10th in the CCHA while his .914 save percentage is good for eighth in the league.
The 51 goals allowed by Coreau leads all Div. I goaltenders.
"Would I say (Coreau) has been an A goaltender, an outstanding goaltender for us at this point? No," Kyle said. "Would I say he's been a very good, solid goaltender to this point? Absolutely."
Freshman netminder Michael Doan has relieved Coreau twice in the third period and most recently in the second period on Dec. 14 at Lake Superior State.
In Doan's limited 49 minutes of action - all on the road at Nebraska-Omaha, Miami and LSSU - he's stopped 36 of the 37 shots faced and the lone goal allowed came on a shorthanded breakaway at Miami.
Special teams: F
In the past, Kyle has graded his penalty kill and power play units separately as they often act as their own individual beast.
This year, however, the Wildcats' special teams units are one animal - one very, very, stinky animal - and both received a failing mark.
"When you look at our special teams, I don't even look at the numbers," Kyle said. "I don't need to look at the numbers. I know it's [explicative]."
Northern's power play ranks ninth in the CCHA and 50th in the nation, converting only 12.3 percent of the time.
The penalty kill is last in the CCHA and second to last in the nation as it only kills 74.7 percent of the penalties thrown its way, which is a fair amount. NMU is the fifth most penalized team in the nation and most penalized team in the CCHA, averaging 15.3 minutes per contest.
Northern's combined special teams rank is 10th in the CCHA and third to last nationally, though the real telling stat is the Wildcats' special teams margin. With 10 power play goals for, 21 power play goals against, one shorthanded goal for and four shorthanded goals against, the 'Cats are -14.
"To me, (special teams) has been the single biggest difference in where we are," Kyle said. "Our five-on-five play, we've been pretty average, pretty middle of the pack. We do an average job when that's in play."
NMU's special teams woes came to a head in Sault Ste. Marie with four of LSSU's six goals coming on its 10 power play attempts.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats failed to score on any of their 12 power play chances against the Lakers - though NMU did score on a delayed penalty with an extra attacker - and only generated 12 shots on the man advantages.
On its 81 power play chances this season, NMU has only generated 94 shots on goal, which Kyle blames in part on a group of blue liners that don't shoot the puck.
"If we're going to generate more on the power play, the biggest thing is we have to find a way to get more pucks to the net from the blue line," Kyle said.
"Penalty killing we have to find a way to be more aggressive. We have to change some people there because some guys are showing they are really inefficient at it."
In the past, Kyle has been hesitant to award a midseason grade to himself and his staff because he said it wasn't fair, but with only two conference wins at the holiday break, brutal special teams play and a struggling offense, Kyle felt compelled to share in the blame for what has been a disappointing first half of 2012-13.
"I'd give myself a worse grade if we hadn't gone through the injuries," Kyle said about the C.
"We've done a very average job. I think we've had a lot of guys injured and we haven't been able to find the chemistry or the combinations with the guys that are available."
Northern has seen key players all miss games due to injuries - like Seckel for three games - or suspensions - five of Thurber's six absences have been for that.
The result has been forward lines that look as if they've been picked out of a hat rather than carefully thought out with defenseman Jake Baker, Mitch Jones and Ryan Trenz all playing forward at one point.
Long gone are the successful combinations that led to a sweep of Wisconsin in Green Bay to start the season.
"We've tried to really spread the ice time more equally than we have in the past and we haven't gotten any real results out of that," Kyle said.
"Something we'll have to do in the second half is really ride the guys that are getting it done."
According to Kyle, the easiest way for the 'Cats to salvage a season that is quickly slipping away is to convert on special teams.
Turning the tables in the third period would help as well where NMU is being outscored 20-9 over the final 20 minutes of play.
"Our special teams have been really bad," Kyle said. "If you want to change who we are over the second half, those two areas have to change.
"I'll tell people that those two areas will dictate how we do the rest of the year."