MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University senior forward Erik Higby buried a penalty shot, but other than that, there was nothing special about the Wildcats' special teams on Saturday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.
Northern gave up three power play goals, two shorthanded goals and killed two of its own advantages with penalties in a 5-1 WCHA loss to second-place Minnesota State that drops the 'Cats to eighth in the league standings with five weekends remaining in the regular season.
"Quite honestly, our power play really let us down," NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. "When you get on power plays, you at least expect to establish some possession and we didn't even get in the zone.
"We turned pucks over. We started doing stuff individually, stupid stuff on the power play. When that happens, it just kind of snowballs into everything else and they took the game away from us at the end of the second."
Only two of the Mavericks first three goals officially counted as power play goals because the second score of the night to put MSU up 2-0 in the second period came seconds after the expiration of a major penalty assessed to NMU freshman forward Robert Lindores for boarding.
MSU took a 1-0 lead in the first period via a power play goal by Johnny McInnis at the 18:15 mark. McInnis then scored at 7:08 of the second period - or three seconds after Lindores was released from the penalty box - to make it 2-0.
Northern Michigan University senior Erik Higby (26) scores on Minnesota State freshman Cole Huggins (34) during a penalty shot in the second period Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Matt Leitner then made it 3-0 on a Mavs power play stemming from a hooking penalty by Dominik Shine that ended a Wildcat advantage after just 37 seconds.
A hooking call against Stephan Vigier ended another NMU power play - which finished 0 for 7 - in the second period, this time after 1:12.
"It's our worst night of the year for sure," Kyle said about the special teams. "We have to be accountable for that. We had a chance. It was 1-0 and we had two power plays to get back in it and we couldn't even gain possession."
Playing four per side late in the second period, the Wildcats got a spark from Higby, who was hooked and taken down by MSU junior defenseman Zach Palmquist on a breakaway a minute and a half before the second intermission.
Higby beat Mavericks freshman goaltender Cole Huggins through the five hole to bring NMU within two scores heading into the third period, however, the Mavs scored on two shorthanded breakaways in the third to rout the 'Cats and stay within striking distance of league-leading Ferris State.
"On our power play, they made some pretty good adjustments," NMU senior captain Stephan Vigier said. "They were pressuring us pretty good. We obviously couldn't figure it out.
"On the PK, the same thing. They were good and we weren't good and that was the difference. It was the same thing last night. We were a lot better than they were and we won the game. Tonight they were better on special teams."
Huggins only had to make 16 saves to get the Mavs their first win ever in Marquette. Friday's 5-2 loss to Northern was MSU's first ever game at the Berry Events Center.
NMU redshirt freshman Mathias Dahlstrom stopped 25 shots as the 'Cats hit the road next weekend for a two-game series against Ferris in downstate Big Rapids.
The Bulldogs and Mavericks are separated by two points at the top of the league standings, while in the bottom half of the league, NMU trails fifth-place Bemidji State, Michigan Tech and Alaska by just one point.
Trailing the Wildcats by a single point in ninth is Lake Superior State.
"(Ferris) is in first right now and we just need to put this one behind us and bring our game to Ferris," Higby said. "We have to bring our best."