Looking to muzzle the Bulldogs

NMU icers try to sweep Ferris for second time

Northern Michigan’s Jame Vermeulen pursues Alabama-Huntsville’s Christian Rajic Saturday night, Dec 2. 2017, at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

MARQUETTE — Finals week has begun for the Northern Michigan University hockey team and perhaps appropriately, this weekend will be the Wildcats’ last home series in 2017.

After picking up four points last weekend at Bemidji State, NMU will now try to earn its second sweep of the season. The Wildcats’ only sweep so far came back in October when they took down Ferris State down in Big Rapids and after a strong performance in Minnesota, Northern (8-8-2, 6-4-2 WCHA) has the chance to get two wins over the Bulldogs again.

However, that won’t be an easy task as Ferris (9-10-1, 6-5-1) has won three of its last four games and has two of the top players in the nation in forwards Mitch Maloney and Corey Mackin. Maloney is currently tied for seventh nationally in goals scored with 12 and was November’s WCHA Offensive Player of the Month while Mackin has racked up 11 assists so far. Mackin was also WCHA Rookie of the Year two seasons ago.

“When you play somebody for the second time, I think you have a pretty good handle on them,” NMU head coach Grant Potulny said Tuesday. “I’ve always appreciated the way that their team is coached. They’re like Bemidji. They are what they are and they do it very well. They’re going to have numbers above the puck and their goaltender (Justin Kapelmaster) is playing outstanding. He’s kind of kickstarted them a little bit and when we played them there, he played the second night. That was the 1-0 game where for 59 minutes and 0.5 seconds, he had a shutout. We just made one play at the end of the game. We’re going to have to get to the net and we’re going to have to make sure that the speed limit goes up this week in practice and use the ice sheet to our advantage.”

Potulny also talked about how each series in the WCHA is difficult and that there are no guaranteed wins like when he played at Minnesota.

“They’re all tough,” he said. “Probably when I played, if you were honest, there were a couple of certain programs where if you played some other guys, you just knew you were going to win. Because of the parity in college hockey now, there’s no easy wins. They’re all challenging. It’ll be a good test for us to finish the first half and we’ll be in a really good spot if we play well.”

The two teams are quite similar offensively with NMU tied for 48th in the nation and Ferris at 50th. The two teams are also alike on the power play with the Wildcats sitting in 41st place and the Bulldogs in 46th. Northern has a bit of an advantage on defense though as it sits 18th in the country and is tied for 20th on the penalty kill well ahead of FSU in both categories.

As far as NMU’s defense goes, it appears right now that goaltender Mathias Israelsson will be back in net against the Bulldogs. However, Potulny says that fellow goalie Atte Tolvanen did practice Monday and he is improving.

“He’s doing better,” Potulny said. “He’s still the same as he was last week and it’s still a day-to-day thing. We’re not going to overrush anybody back especially before break. We’ll see, but he practiced yesterday.”

Looking back at last weekend, the Wildcats headed to Bemidji after getting dealt a disappointing split with Alabama-Huntsville. In need of points to stay near the top of the WCHA, Northern notched two ties over the Beavers and got the extra point both nights thanks to a goal in the second overtime Friday and a shootout win Saturday.

“I feel good (about the Bemidji series),” Potulny said. “I think both games were hard-fought games. They’re as well-coached as anybody we play and on Saturday’s game, I was really encouraged with our mental toughness. One of the goals, there was controversy on whether it should’ve or shouldn’t have been a goal. One of the goals, our guy breaks his stick and they get a breakaway. One of the goals, there’s a penalty call late in the game on maybe something that you just hoped wouldn’t have been called at that point in the game. But it didn’t matter and we just kept coming, even when they took the lead in the game. We scored first and they were kind of chasing us and then they took the lead and we just took it right back.

“We’ve talked about that a lot, maturing as a group and becoming more mentally tough. I thought our resiliency in that game was outstanding. In the third period, you talk about closing a game out and until the penalty was called, the scoring chances were 3 to 1 us. In a close game on the road, you try to make sure that there’s a whole lot of nothing going on. That’s kind of how it went so I’m really pleased with the effort.”

Both Friday and Saturday’s games against Ferris will be at 7 p.m. in the Berry Events Center.

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