Play for 2nd place: Northern Michigan University, Bowling Green State Falcons hockey teams jockeying for WCHA position
MARQUETTE — The famous Las Vegas slogan “What happens here, stays here” would be an apt saying for Northern Michigan University hockey team after their opening-night performance at the Ice Vegas Invitational on Friday.
The Wildcats were surprisingly lit up for seven goals by lightly regarded Arizona State and struggled on both ends of the ice.
But NMU bounced back the next night to tie No. 16 Boston College and claimed third place in the tournament by winning a shootout. So it was a weekend of mixed results for the Wildcats.
NMU head coach Grant Potulny, who was off coaching at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, New York, felt that some off-the-rink issues may have contributed to his team’s poor performance Friday, as well as them possibly disregarding the talents of the Sun Devils.
“There were some circumstances outside of our control Thursday with our travel getting there,” he said. “Obviously, that was a distraction and the city itself I think can be a distraction.
“(What) we always talk about is that we don’t fear anybody anymore in this program. I’ve always said anybody, anywhere and anytime, and that happened Saturday against BC.
“But we have to make sure that we respect everybody. I don’t know that we had enough respect for our opponent (Arizona State) on Friday and teams are too good in college hockey. That program is making strides and obviously they showed it again the next night (by) winning the tournament.
“I think part of it was self-inflicted wounds and part of it was probably that we didn’t get to our game quick enough and were chasing it the whole game. When you chase the game, if the other goalie is making saves, it can make (it) real challenging.”
Northern (11-10-3, 9-5-2 WCHA) definitely has to have respect for this weekend’s opponent, No. 14 Bowling Green State (12-6-6, 9-2-5).
After sweeping Ferris State last week, the Falcons passed NMU in the league standings to move into second place with 34 points. The Wildcats (31 points) have a big opportunity to reclaim the No. 2 spot with a sweep at home and that’ll be important with Bemidji State now sitting just one point behind.
The Falcons are primarily known for their size, consistency and ability to control teams on defense as they took down both Michigan and Michigan Tech to win the Great Lakes Invitational on Jan. 1-2. BGSU goalie and Florida Panthers prospect Ryan Bednard is also off to a great start with a 2.21 goals against average.
“They have the least amount of losses in our league and they have a goalie that is having statistically the best season of any goalie in our league,” Potulny said. “They’re a heavy team, so we might be a rush offense team where we want to get up and down the rink, and they’re a more ‘half-court’ team.
“They’re strong and heavy and tough to knock off pucks. Conversely, if you just want to play one-on-one against them, some of their big defensemen and big body players … can push you off pucks. So we need to make sure that we play our hockey.
“It’s kind of contrasting styles this weekend. We’ve got to get to our game before they get to theirs. They’ve got two losses in the league and they were within one game of making the NCAA tournament last year.
“They’re a quality opponent and they have a really good coaching staff. So it’s going to be a challenge but it’s fun, though. I think at this point our guys appreciate the fact that we’re in January and we’re playing a really meaningful series at home against a really quality opponent.
“If you look at our schedules, I think we play the exact same teams the rest of the year. So there’s going to be a lot of evenness with us and them through the remainder of the season. That makes the importance of these games even greater.”
Looking closer at the trip to Las Vegas, Potulny felt his team really showed how well it can rebound after a disappointing loss by tying the Eagles the next night.
“I think that was a really good statement for our team,” he said. “But that’s us and we’re resilient. We’ve been like that throughout the course of the season when you think about it. Especially against real quality opponents, maybe on Friday we don’t play as good, but then on Saturday, we win convincingly.
“That’s the progression for us and now we need to be consistent in our effort and have two games where you feel really good about where you’re at.
“I think going into the break, we did. Even in Mankato with the two road games (a split with Minnesota State), I think the effort was good both nights. Six of the last seven or seven of the last eight games, we’ve been happy with our effort.
“I think that one (the ASU loss) kind of snuck up on us and we just can’t make that a trend now. We can’t step backwards. We’ve worked too hard to (get) where we are now.”
The games today and Saturday start at 7 p.m. at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is email@example.com.