Omaha! Omaha! Omaha!

Peyton Manning’s favorite team brings high-powered offense to NMU

Northern Michigan University’s Robbie Payne, center left, shoots in the first period against Bowling Green State University on Nov. 12 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

MARQUETTE — Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse for the Northern Michigan University hockey team, they did last weekend.

After a hard-fought loss Friday against WCHA leader Bemidji State, the Wildcats were blitzed with four goals in the first 10 minutes Saturday. As a result, NMU was dealt another defeat and extended its losing streak to five.

This week, the Wildcats (3-10-1, 1-8-1 WCHA) get a bit of a break with a nonconference series against Nebraska-Omaha, not having to worry about the WCHA standings as much. NMU head coach Walt Kyle thinks it will be a huge help for his team.

“Five of the six periods we played (last weekend) were pretty good,” he said. “We ended up losing both games, but Friday night’s game was a good hockey game. We got our goalie (Atte Tolvanen) out to try to tie the game, but we weren’t able to.

“Saturday night, we got out of it really quick. They scored four goals on five chances and then we were chasing the 8-ball. At that point, you’re down 4-0 after one. I think we had a bit of a shock and awe look on our face, like ‘What happened?’

“The guys came back and did a really good job to their credit. It’s easy for something to roll over, but the guys played hard.

“This is a great time for a nonconference series. We need to do some things to get our house in order, so it’s a good time to do it. I would’ve liked to have it a week ago, but I’m glad it’s happening now.

“They are a real good team. Dean (Blais) is a real good coach and he has some real high-end players. We want to play against a good team here.”

Omaha (6-5-1, 3-3 NCHC) was just swept by No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth at home, so the Mavericks may be reeling a bit. However, the Mavs are still going to be hard to beat as they have the best power play in the nation and they will be locked and loaded against NMU’s leaky penalty kill, which is worst in the nation statistically.

The Mavericks are led by forward Austin Ortega, who is considered one of the best in the nation. He has 16 points already and finished with 36 last year. Ortega also has good support offensively from fellow forwards David Pope and Tyler Vesel (14 points each). Omaha has the sixth-best offense in the country, so NMU will have to be sharp from the opening puck drop if they want to avoid being plowed over.

“They have some really good forwards and they play at a really good pace,” Kyle said. “They’re a fast team and their top line is really good. They also have the best power play in the country, so we’ll have our hands full.”

Omaha’s glaring weakness is in net. Both of the Mavericks’ goalies, Evan Weninger and Kris Oldham, have goals-against averages above 3.00 and save percentages below 90 percent. If Northern can finally score goals at home, this weekend has the potential for a high-scoring affair.

When asked what he wants to come out of this series with the Mavericks, Kyle’s thoughts were simple and to the point.

“Winning is the No. 1 thing,” he said. “It’s time that we win at home and it’s time we play well at home. It’s time for us to get our house in order so we can make a run at this thing while we still can. It’s great that this series is taking place now.”

Both Friday’s and Saturday’s games start at 7:07 p.m. at the Berry Events Center.

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