Northern Michigan University hockey team makes long trek north to Alaska for next 2 weekends

Northern Michigan University’s Adam Rockwood, right, and Ferris State’s Jason Tacket wait for the puck to drop in their faceoff at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Dec. 14. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

MARQUETTE — For the past two weeks, the Northern Michigan University hockey team has been resting up, letting injuries heal and taking time to prepare for the crucial second half of the season.

All of that will be important as the Wildcats (9-10, 8-4 WCHA) embark on their longest road trip of the year this weekend and that’s the grueling two-week stretch in Alaska. NMU opens with Alaska Fairbanks tonight and Saturday, then heads to Alaska-Anchorage next weekend.

Before their two-week layoff, Northern swept Ferris State in convincing fashion. The Wildcats scored four unanswered goals Friday to earn a victory and notched three first-period goals Saturday to head into the break with a boost of momentum. Those two wins were impressive, but NMU head coach Grant Potulny felt that his team has been trending upward.

“I feel that the Saturday night (game) against Lake (Superior) State (in November), there were a couple of guys that didn’t play and it was a really gutsy effort to win the game,” Potulny said before Christmas. “I think we’ve played really well since then.

“The Notre Dame game (an overtime loss), I think that had those special teams had gone the other way, I think the game would’ve gone the other way. We played well against Tech and played well against Ferris.”

With the Wildcats seemingly getting back to themselves, they have a big chance to climb the WCHA standings as Fairbanks and Anchorage are both off to awful starts.

The Nanooks (4-12-2, 4-7-1) will be an interesting matchup for Northern, primarily because they have yet to see them this year. What is known, though, is that NMU has handled Alaska for the most part, taking three of four games from the Nanooks last year.

“It’s funny because I haven’t seen them a lot on video for whatever reason,” Potulny said. “Some teams we see a lot. We see Bowling Green a ton because the team you’re playing has just played them. I know that they’ve got a new coach (Erik Largen) and that they’ve had some success at home and you know some of their players. You can look at where they’re at in the standings, but they were in the same spot last year. We went up there on Friday and won handily and then on Saturday, we’re in a dogfight and ended up losing the game.”

Like NMU, Alaska has struggled offensively (54th in the nation), but unlike the Wildcats, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to improve. The Nanooks are almost as bad on the other end of the ice as they sit 52nd overall and are bad on special teams as well (50th on both power play and penalty kill).

“I know that history tells you that it’s been hard to win all four games (in Alaska),” Potulny said. “There’s teams who have won three. Some teams have gone 2-1-1. The challenge is that the front half of the trip is no different. It’s like going up to play anybody. The trick is going to be keeping guys fresh and moving around because you can get caught up in that there’s not a lot going on. They’re not in school, so they don’t have to worry about homework. The trick is going to be making sure that we’re not just kind of laying around the hotel all day. It’s that old thing like a body in motion, stays in motion.”

The puck drops against the Nanooks at 11:07 p.m. EST tonight and Saturday.

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