Snake-bit at home: Nortern Michigan University skaters end year with loss in WCHA title game to Michigan Tech, 2-0

Northern Michigan University’s Joseph Nardi, left, looks for a pass from Zach Diamantoni, front right, in the first period of the WCHA playoff championship game against Michigan Tech played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Saturday night. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University hockey team was snake-bit when it hurt the most on Saturday night.

The stage was set for the ultimate Upper Peninsula showdown as archrivals Northern Michigan University and Michigan Tech took to the ice in front of a packed house at the Berry Events Center for the WCHA Championship game.

Wildcat fans filled the arena, waving white towels furiously, hoping that their favorite team would put several goals up on the scoreboard.

Unfortunately for the NMU faithful, the Wildcats offense, which was so potent all season at home, was completely shut down by Huskies goalie Patrick Munson.

The netminder led the Huskies to a 2-0 shutout win and their second straight NCAA Tournament berth. This was the only time all season that the Wildcats were held scoreless at home.

Northern Michigan University’s Zach Diamantoni, right, looks for the puck as Michigan Tech’s Mark Auk, left, gives chase in the first period of the WCHA playoff championship game played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Saturday. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“Sometimes the puck doesn’t go your way and you don’t get the bounces you want,” Northern co-captain Zach Diamantoni said. “I thought we had a lot of good chances, but credit to them. I thought their goalie played well.

“They kept a lot of shots to the outside and we didn’t finish the opportunities that we usually finish on. We were just snake-bit in the wrong game.”

With his four heartbroken seniors sitting next to him, NMU head coach Grant Potulny talked about the effort that group put in and that he liked how his team played overall.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our team and our group,” he said. “You get what you earn. Tonight, was not the case. I take nothing away from our opponent because I thought they played outstanding.

“It’s just too bad that somebody’s season had to end tonight. I thought it was a great hockey game. It was two very good teams competing and playing to the best of their abilities. Tonight, it was just one bounce that didn’t go our way, but that doesn’t change my feelings about our team or these four men up here with me.

“I’m proud to be a Wildcat and proud be part of our community.”

Tech was clinging to a slim 1-0 lead late in the third period and had a chance to put the game away midway through the frame, but Northern managed kill off a questionable penalty on defenseman Phil Beaulieu to keep the deficit at one.

After Munson stretched out to deny NMU winger Denver Pierce with 1:48 left in the period, Wildcats goalie Atte Tolvanen was pulled for an extra skater. However, it backfired for NMU as the Wildcats turned it over in their own defensive zone and Joel L’Esperance put the finishing touches on the Huskies win with an empty-netter.

Early in the second period, Tech got a great opportunity to get on the board as Northern was whistled for holding, putting the Huskies on the power play, but could only manage some decent looks. The Wildcats killed off the penalty but got burned just seconds later on a timely play by Greyson Reitmeier. With the puck laying in the crease, Reitmeier flipped it up over Tolvanen as he dove forward to cover the puck to put the Huskies up 1-0.

NMU had two power plays of its own in the frame but couldn’t do much of anything with them as the Tech penalty killers locked down in front of the net.

Tolvanen was also forced to make a big save on Northern’s first power play after Troy Loggins coughed up the puck and created a shorthanded attempt.

The Wildcats had their best scoring opportunity with two minutes left in the period on a good offensive rush by Luke Voltin and Demico Hannoun. Voltin skated hard to the net and passed it over to Hannoun at the near post, but Munson did the splits over to the pipe and stuffed Hannoun’s attempt. NMU skated into the break down by a goal.

“I thought they (the Huskies) played a good game and we had some very good opportunities. Their goalie made an incredible save on Demico when it was 1-1 in the second. We hit a pipe and had a great opportunity at the end of the game right in front.

“As good as Atte played and as good as our team played, I feel bad for them. It was just a bad bounce and if that bad bounce doesn’t go that way, we might be playing for a long time.”

There wasn’t a lot of scoring chances for either team in the first period. Tech had the first good one four minutes into the frame, but L’Esperance’s shot was deflected out by Tolvanen’s blocker. With 14:21 remaining in the period, NMU got its first opportunity as defenseman Connor Frantti sent a shot on net that Munson bobbled, but he snuffed out the rebound.

Later in the frame, Wildcats defenseman Jordan Klimek sent a slap shot at Munson, but the netminder slid over to make the save. The last decent chance of the period came with 8:49 remaining and the Huskies were the benefactor. Tech winger Gavin Gould picked off a NMU pass and tried to go far post on Tolvanen, but the goalie sprawled out on his stomach to deny Gould.

“It was such a fun year,” Potulny said. “You might have teams that go farther. I don’t know if I think I’ll have a team that has a bigger spot in my heart than these guys do. I’m so proud of them and I hurt for them because I understand how that feels as a player. It’s one thing if you don’t play well. Our preparation was outstanding.

“I just feel for them. I feel for them because it’s such a tough pill to swallow as an athlete when you do everything right and play the right way. In the end it just doesn’t go your way.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal. net.