MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University head hockey coach Walt Kyle felt it was time his team heard from a new voice Saturday after losing the night before to Lake Superior State in the opener of the Father Cappo Cup series at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.
So Kyle brought in former Wildcat Andrew Fernandez, who after playing at NMU from 2007-11, had returned this season to be the program's strength and conditioning coach.
"Fernandez is a guy who played here and has a lot of pride in our program," Kyle said. "I didn't think we played with the kind of pride we needed to play with last night.
Northern Michigan University senior Erik Higby (26) skates around the back of the net with Lake Superior State University senior Matt Bruneteau (27) pressuring Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"Your mom and dad can tell you a lot of things when you're 17 and you don't listen. Someone else tells you and you listen."
Fernandez's words worked Saturday as the Wildcats not only moved back into playoff position, they took back the Cappo Cup from the Lakers with a 5-1 win.
NMU senior forward Erik Higby scored twice in the second period to break a 1-1 tie while freshman forward John Siemer scored the Cup clinching goal in the third period, giving the 'Cats a 8-6 series win.
"That Cappo Cup is a big thing to me," Kyle said. "Father Cappo, he did my wedding, he baptized all my kids. I was a personal friend of his and he was also for a lot of people in the community. I think that's important we have that here."
The Wildcats began the weekend in eighth place in the WCHA, fell to ninth after Friday's 5-3 loss, and are now back where they started in eighth. It was the same story for the Lakers, who went from ninth into a tie for seventh and back into ninth.
Bemidji State sits one point ahead of NMU, 22-21, in seventh place after splitting with first-place Ferris State while Bowling Green, Michigan Tech and Alaska sit tied for fourth with 24 points after the Nanooks went into Houghton and swept the Huskies 7-3 and 7-2 this weekend.
The Falcons, Nanooks, Huskies and Beavers have all played two more conference games than the Wildcats and Lakers.
"You never want to be in ninth place," Kyle said. "It's so close right now and we always talk about getting points. You have to take it one game at a time. We had a bounce back game tonight and we needed to have a bounce back game to get those points."
Saturday's Cappo Cup win snapped a four-game losing streak for Northern, and according to Lake Superior State head coach Jim Roque, NMU redshirt freshman goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom was a big reason the Wildcats stopped their skid.
Dahlstrom made 31 saves while his counterpart on the opposite end of the ice, LSSU senior netminder Kevin Murdock, made 28 saves.
"We need our goalie to win us a game like that one night like their guy won them a game tonight," Roque said.
Midway through January, Dahlstrom was the WCHA's top goaltender in league play with a 1.53 goals against average and .946 save percentage, but those numbers have slipped since to 2.41 and .916.
After sitting out and just practicing all of last season, Dahlstrom has been the Wildcats' go-to-guy in goal this season, starting 27 of the team's 30 games. He said he's not tired having played over 1,600 minutes, at least not physically.
"It's not physical, it's more mental for me, preparing for every game," Dahlstrom said. "It's a big thing.
"I follow the same pattern before every game and I think I need to just keep doing that."
Dahlstrom got plenty of goal support Saturday, something he didn't get much during losing streak, which saw NMU held to just a single goal three times before Friday's 5-3 defeat.
The Wildcats and Lakers traded power play goals in the first period Saturday with NMU taking a 1-0 lead via the 14th goal of the year by senior forward Stephan Vigier 2:54 in.
LSSU freshman forward Alex Globke, the leading rookie point getter in the WCHA, tied the game at 1-1 on the man advantage 40 seconds before the first intermission.
Higby scored twice in the second period on rebounds with the first coming as an LSSU penalty expired 5:15 into the second period. The next , his 14th of the year, came at 6:21 after the puck slipped under a falling Murdock, allowing the senior Wildcat forward to sneak behind the Lakers' goalie to help move the puck along the rest of the way.
"We talked about down-low plays, moving the puck behind the net, looking for the point and trying to stretch them out," Higby said about the second period. "I thought we had a lot of shots from the point. We were crashing the net. That's where we got most of our offense."
Siemer finished off a rebound 2:44 into the third period for his fifth goal and 10th point in 13 games this season. Fellow freshman forward Dominik Shine followed with his fourth goal and 11th point of the year at 12:50 of the third to put the 'Cats up 5-1.
Those goals were important, but according to Higby, playing solid defense in front of Dahlstrom was the real key to victory Saturday.
On Friday, team defense is what cost the Wildcats a win after jumping up 2-0 in the first period.
"It was a big difference," Dahlstrom said about the team defense. "Like we were talking about yesterday, it was one of the worst nights we had during the season. I'd say this was one of the better ones. It was just the opposite. We were great."
Kyle credited his senior leadership for the win Saturday, singling out Higby, Vigier, junior forward Reed Seckel, who assisted on Shine's goal, and senior defenseman Wade Epp.
No one in that group may be the vocal leader that injured senior captain and defenseman C.J. Ludwig was, but they can lead by example on the ice, Kyle said.
"Ludwig was our guy, he was our heartbeat, the guy that would talk and be the most vocal. These other guys are all best when they're leading by example and doing the things it takes to be successful. Tonight you saw it from Seckel and Vigier. You don't have to be a captain to be a leader. Higby and Epp were leaders. They all did the things to be successful. If they continue to do that, the rest of the guys will follow."