Wildcats look to Alaska for wins vs. struggling Anchorage
Up next: Northern Michigan University at Alaska-Anchorage, 11:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Radio: WUPT 100.3 FM The Point
MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University hockey team came into last weekend on a five-game losing streak, ending it Friday with a 2-2 tie with Nebraska-Omaha.
Then the Wildcats dropped the Saturday game 2-0 to the Mavericks and extended their winless streak to seven.
The good thing for the Wildcats (3-11-2) is that they have a great chance to end that skid and even get their first sweep as they head north to the Last Frontier to take on Alaska-Anchorage. The Seawolves (1-11-2) currently occupy last place in the WCHA, but Northern is only one point ahead.
So this is a pivotal series for both teams in Northern’s only trip to Alaska this season.
“We have 18 league games left,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “The one good thing about our (previous) schedule is that it was loaded with six of our nonconference games. So we have plenty of time to get something done, but you can’t let games go by with teams that you’re competing with.
“The guys know it and are well aware of it. It’s tough that it’s in their building with the travel and all that, but we have to do it and it just is what it is.”
Alaska-Anchorage has shown flashes of quality play this season, much like the Wildcats.
“I watched them on tape and I’ll know more significantly after I watch them play,” Kyle said. “I can tell you that they tied Michigan Tech a couple weeks ago. We haven’t been able to do that and Tech is a good hockey team. We’ll have our hands full. The bulk of this league is very similar and on a given night, it’s a goal here or a goal there.”
The Seawolves haven’t won since Oct. 15 and especially struggle scoring, sitting dead last in the nation in total offense. Anchorage is also 59th in the nation on the power play.
However, Northern’s numbers are nearly as bad in both categories — 57th of 60 on offense and 58th on the power play.
So this could be a quiet weekend for Anchorage goalie Olivier Mantha and Northern’s Atte Tolvanen. It looks like Tolvanen will play both games this weekend as Kyle ruled out Mathias Israelsson after the sophomore suffered a lower leg injury in the first period on Saturday.
Even though Anchorage is struggling, Northern isn’t overlooking them, especially with the travel.
“They’re always a tough team to play and especially going up there to play them,” Wildcats forward Robbie Payne said. “Both times we’ve gone up there, though, we’ve played really well.
“I think the way we’ve been playing lately is a boost in our direction and when we go up there, we expect to get wins. That’s what we’re working toward. We’re not going up there looking to get a split or to tie two games. We’re excited to go up there and it’ll be a good test for us with only four games left until Christmas break.”
Looking at last weekend’s scoresheet, it showed mixed results. But Kyle doesn’t see it that way. The official record also doesn’t show NMU winning the opener with a goal in double overtime.
“As a coach you look at it (Friday) as a tie, but I can tell you that when the guys came off the bench, there was a real feeling that when they scored that goal (Payne ended the game in the second OT) like, ‘Hey we got something done here,'” Kyle said.
“We went into that game Saturday and we were in it and it was close. I think the guys played the way they needed to and they took a step.
“I don’t think we are what our record is. I usually say just the opposite. We’ve just kind of found ways not to get it done. We give up power play goals one night and bad goals the next night and not score the next night.”
With the time difference, both games have late starts by Midwestern standards at 11:07 p.m. EST each night.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is email@example.com.