MARQUETTE - With Northern Michigan University senior captain and defenseman C.J. Ludwig done for the season because of a knee injury and senior forward Erik Higby out indefinitely with a bad wrist, opportunity is knocking for a number of young Wildcats who have seen minimal ice time this season.
But the chance to win a spot in the lineup won't be around for long.
Northern closes out the first half of its schedule with two WCHA games Friday and Saturday in Mankato against Minnesota State, followed by a non-conference series Dec. 13-14 in Grand Forks against the NCHC's University of North Dakota.
Northern Michigan University sophomore forward Justin Rose takes a shot Oct. 18 against Nebraska-Omaha at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. Rose is one of a handful of players trying to earn a regular spot in the Wildcats lineup while key players miss time with injuries. (Journal file photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
After the holiday break, head coach Walt Kyle is potentially bringing in two forwards - should they become eligible and cleared to play - in 21-year-olds Gerard Hanson of Sweden and John Siemer of Baldin Park, Calif.
Hanson is already enrolled at NMU, while Siemer is taking classes online to become a student for the winter semester. Neither will join the team just to sit on the bench, not after watching the entire first half of the season as outsiders.
"There are a number of guys who have gotten opportunities that need to continue to prove themselves," Kyle said. "(The injuries are) unfortunate for us as a team, but it might be beneficial to these guys to see where they fit.
"We have four games to give those guys an opportunity to see where they are."
Despite Ludwig's injury, the Wildcats are set at defense. Freshman Brock Maschmeyer will move from forward back to his natural position on the blue line to replace Ludwig alongside senior Wade Epp in the lineup, opening up a spot at forward.
After scoring two goals and two assists up front, the hope is Maschmeyer can pick up where Ludwig left off as an offensive-minded defenseman.
Ludwig sits second in the league in scoring amongst defensemen with five goals and seven assists. His four power play goals is tied for fourth overall in the league.
"I thought Maschmeyer and myself had a pretty solid game," Epp said after Saturday's 1-1 tie with Ferris. "Communication helps. He's a really good defenseman. We can only improve from here.
"He's more of an offensive-minded defenseman. He moves the puck well. He did well on the power play. There are some similarities (between Maschmeyer and Ludwig). I enjoy playing with him."
With Maschmeyer back at defense on Saturday and junior forward Reed Seckel suspended one game, Kyle gave a trio of bubble players spots in the lineup.
Sophomore forward Ryan Aynsley hopped on the first line with senior - now captain - Stephan Vigier and junior Ryan Daugherty. It was only Aynsley's fifth game this season after appearing in 35 a year ago.
Sophomore Justin Rose, who played 24 games as a freshman, made just his fourth appearance, playing alongside freshmen regulars Shane Sooth and Dominik Shine. Rose hadn't seen action since registering an assist in the Oct. 18-19 series against Nebraska-Omaha.
Sophomore Robert Lindores made his season-debut Saturday after missing nearly two months with a knee injury. He replaced banged-up junior Nate Taurence on the fourth line to team with senior Jake Johnson and new junior alternate captain Ryan Kesti.
Kyle called Lindores and Rose's efforts on Saturday "honest," but was impressed by the speed and energy of Aynsley. It's something NMU needs, Kyle said.
"We have to find out what our lineup is going to be," said Kyle during Saturday's postgame press conference. "We had a some guys play up (Saturday). I thought Aynsley was really good. I noticed his speed. I think he earned a spot."
Also on the bubble trying to earn ice time is junior forward D.J. Vandercook, who has one assist this year in four games. He was only in the lineup once - Nov. 23 vs. Alabama-Huntsville - during the month of November with Kyle describing him as "up and down."
When it comes to holding onto a spot in the lineup, Kyle listed sophomore forward Cohen Adair and Taurence on the bubble, but Taurence's penalty killing abilities - he's second to Kesti in PK minutes - makes him tough to bench, he said.
Kyle said Adair would also be tough to sit out considering the success he has had with sophomore Darren Nowick and freshman Sami Salminen. But most of the trio's points have been on the power play, with just one score coming five-on-five.
"They're a good line, but at the end of the day, you hear me say it about our hockey team, you are your record," Kyle said. "It's the same thing with a line or individual. If you're an offensive line, you're going to have numbers. If you're an individual, you're going to have numbers. It's going to be there."