MARQUETTE - Lake Superior State didn't just beat the Northern Michigan University hockey team 5-3 on Friday at the Berry Events Center to take a 1-0 lead in the two-game Cappo Cup series.
The Lakers knocked the Wildcats down a peg in the WCHA standings into one of two spots no team in the new-look league wants to be in.
"If you lose tomorrow, the next one is a must win," NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. "If you lose the next two, the next is a must win. We're in a hunt right now and the first thing we have to do is control our quality of play. Our quality of play is really not good right now."
The Wildcats (11-16-2 overall, 9-11-1 in WCHA) blew a 2-0 lead early in the first period to drop to ninth in the league standings, which would mean the 'Cats would join last-place, one-win Alabama-Huntsville as spectators for the WCHA playoffs if the season ended today.
Northern, which has lost four straight, will have a chance to regain eighth and put LSSU (14-14-1, 10-11-0) back into ninth-place at 7:07 p.m. tonight at the Berry Events Center in the second and final meeting between the two Upper Peninsula rivals.
"It's tough, especially to go up 2-0 in the first and then we just got sloppy and lazy," NMU senior forward and captain Stephan Vigier said. "We had it 3-3 at one point and we let in a couple goals there.
"Yeah, it sucks for sure."
A pair of freshmen forwards teamed up for the game-winning goal that gave the Lakers a 4-3 lead 8:14 into the second period. Ian Miller dished a pass from behind the net to Mitchell Nardi, who was able to get between a Wildcat defender and NMU redshirt freshman Mathias Dahlstrom for an easy goal.
LSSU sophomore Bryce Schmitt added an insurance goal 11:02 into the third period to put the Wildcats down 5-3.
"We had little periods throughout the game and it cost us," NMU senior defenseman Wade Epp said. "The past few weekends it's cost us. We have to shore that up I guess.
"We have a good team, we just have to put it together."
The Wildcats led 2-0 in the first period by outshooting the Lakers 9-2, but gave both goals back before the first intermission.
NMU junior forward Reed Seckel finished the initial shot of Vigier to give Northern a 1-0 lead 3:58 into the game. Wildcats junior defender Mitch Jones then buried a blast from just below the blue line just as a Laker penalty expired to make it 2-0 8:34 into the game.
LSSU senior forward Colin Campbell got LSSU on the board on the power play 11:26 into the first period after tipping a snipe from the top of the key by sophomore forward Eric Drapluk to cut NMU's lead in half.
Lakers freshman forward Gus Correale, with an assist by Nardi, then took advantage of a bobbled save by Dahlstrom to tie the game at 2-2 at 13:20 of the first period.
"That was a huge power play goal there to make it 2-1," LSSU head coach Jim Roque said. "It got us back, brought a little life back into our bench there. (NMU) had a great start and a great jump on us.
"Our guys stuck with it and we got our legs going finally. I thought we did a nice job offensively. We could have scored some more goals tonight. We missed some good chances."
The Wildcats and Lakers exchanged goals 16 seconds apart in the opening two and a half minutes of the second period.
The Lakers got Dahlstrom moving and out of position 2:05 into the second period, allowing junior forward Stephen Perfetto to put LSSU up 3-2 over NMU.
The Wildcats tied the game at 3-3, however, at the 2:21 mark via the 13th goal of the season by Vigier with assists by freshman forward Shane Sooth and senior forward Erik Higby.
"I don't want to say it's a must-win game because maybe it isn't right now, but we've got to get points," Vigier said about tonight's rematch. "I think we just have to put together a solid game to get everyone's confidence back."
NOTES: Dahlstrom finished with 33 saves while LSSU senior goaltender Kevin Murdock stopped 32 shots. NMU was outshot 38-35 in the game after topping the Lakers 17-11 in the first period. LSSU was outshooting NMU 12-4 at one point in the second period. There were no penalties in the third period. Going up against the start of the U.P. 200 sled dog races downtown, announced attendance Friday was 1,720, the second smallest crowd of the season. The low is 1,705 on Nov. 29 (Black Friday) against Ferris State.