Wildcats inch toward top spot in WCHA


By Journal Sports Staff

MANKATO, Minnesota — Northern Michigan University has a chance to take over the top spot in the WCHA if it can pull off something it has only done twice all season — sweep a two-game weekend series.

The Wildcats put themselves into position for that lofty goal after nipping first-place and No. 7-ranked Minnesota State-Mankato 4-3 Friday night on the road.

The win improved NMU to 9-4-2 and gives it 31 points, while the Mavericks slipped to 11-4-0 with 33 points. Since league victories are worth three points, Northern has a chance to leapfrog Minnesota State and also Bowling Green, which was tied for second after playing a nonconference game at Western Michigan on Thursday.

The winning goal was scored in dramatic fashion as freshman forward Joseph Nardi broke a 3-3 tie with 36 seconds remaining in regulation on his fourth tally of the season that was assisted by sophomore Darien Craighead and junior Denver Pierce.

NMU junior goalie Atte Tolvanen earned his third consecutive win, stopping 26 saves as the Wildcats were outshot 29-18. Tolvanen’s season numbers moved to a .914 saves percentage and 2.33 goals-against average.

The home team opened the scoring less than 4 1/2 minutes into the game when Jake Jaremko knocked home his fifth goal of the season. The Mavericks (13-6 overall) have scored the first goal of each game vs. NMU (10-8-2) this season after the teams split a series in Marquette in early November.

Northern junior Troy Loggins evened the score less than four minutes later by going top shelf on Mankato goalie Connor LaCouvee. Assists went to reigning WCHA Defensive Player of the Week Jordan Klimek, who earned his ninth assist on Loggins’ seventh goal.

No more goals went in either net until late in the second period when the Wildcats scored and the Mavericks answered just 18 seconds later.

Craighead scored NMU’s go-ahead goal with 2:32 left in the second, his 11th goal of the season and sixth in his last four games. Mankato answered with a tally by Riese Zmolek to send it to the third period tied 2-2.

Northern again took a lead in the third when senior Robbie Payne notched his 16th goal of the season just over three minutes into the period. It tied him for the nation’s lead in goals as junior Adam Rockwood earned his second assist and Loggins his second point of the night.

Mankato again tied it, though this time it took nearly 12 minutes to accomplish it. Parker Tuomie scored the goal to set up Nardi’s heroics in the waning seconds.

Tonight’s battle for the top spot in the WCHA starts at 8:07 p.m. EST.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.