Tight battle at the Berry

Officially a tie, Wildcats?lose in 3-on-3 OT?to LSSU

Northern Michigan University's Sami Salminen, left, takes a shot on goal against Lake Superior State University's Gordon Defiel, right, Friday night, Jan. 13, 2017, at the Berry Events Center. (Journal photo by Jess Makela)

MARQUETTE — For the first time at home, the Northern Michigan University hockey team got to test out the WCHA’s new extra period format.

It didn’t go so well.

Even though the game is officially in the scorebook as a tie, Lake Superior State’s Gage Torrel took advantage of an NMU defensive mistake and beat Wildcats goalie Atte Tolvanen top shelf with nine seconds left in the second overtime to give the Lakers a 2-1 win.

It also earned them two points in the WCHA standings while Northern got one.

The Wildcats (5-17-3, 3-12-2 WCHA) had a chance to get that extra point themselves in the second OT, but Zach Diamantoni’s penalty shot was denied easily by Lake State goalie Gordon Defiel.

Though his team missed out on an extra point in the race for the final WCHA playoff spot, NMU head coach Walt Kyle was happy with how it played.

“That was a great game,” he said. “I think we definitely took a step tonight. We had some chances to win it, but it goes in as a tie. I would’ve liked to get the extra point, but we didn’t.

“We had a lot of guys play well. I thought Sami’s (Salminen) line was outstanding tonight and Troy (Loggins) was really good. I also thought Atte was really good. On the last goal, we had one of our guys get above his guy in the neutral zone and they made a play.”

In regard to Diamantoni’s penalty shot attempt, Kyle thought that he tried to do a little too much with the puck.

“Zach tried to get cute on his penalty shot and you can’t be cute at this level,” he said. “You have to go in hard and make a strong move to get a shot on net. Their goalie did a great job, though, smothering him.”

The first period was definitely back and forth. The Lakers (9-12-2, 6-9-2) were in control early as shots by Brendan McKay and Matt McArdle almost deflected in past Tolvanen.

After NMU was whistled for tripping, the Lakers got on the board when Max Humitz’s blast from the point skipped off the ice and over Tolvanen’s glove.

Following that score, NMU skaters put more pressure on Defiel, especially Salminen. The big senior got off two wrist shots in the second half of the opening period, but Defiel just got a piece of both of them. Salminen connected on his third chance, though, as he received a drop pass from Rylan Yaremko and beat Defiel top shelf.

“Sami has been really good for us,” Kyle said. “We missed him while he was gone for being hurt and he’s been great ever since he came back.”

When asked about his goal, Salminen was relieved to finally get his first one of the year after a long drought.

“It’s been quite a while since I scored, like 30 games if you don’t count the exhibition,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ve worked hard every day and we have a good combination with our lineup (playing on a line with Loggins and Gerard Hanson). The goal was at the end of my shift, so I was just trying to get one off and the goalie probably wasn’t expecting it.”

Both teams had a chance to take the lead late in the period, but couldn’t do it. Lake State’s Diego Cuglietta couldn’t corral a nice cross-ice feed from Torrel, and about a minute later, Wildcat Philip Beaulieu was unable to sneak his shot through Diamantoni’s screen in front of Defiel.

Offense was the story of the first period, but it was defense in the second. Tolvanen was impressive throughout the frame as he made some nice saves to keep the game tied. Early in the period, there was a loose puck in front of the net and the Lakers got two whacks at it, but the NMU goalie denied them both. A couple of minutes later, Torrel weaved around Hanson and Brock Maschmeyer on a shorthanded attempt, but Tolvanen stopped him with his blocker.

Tolvanen’s best performance came about midway through the frame on the penalty kill. With the Wildcats in the box on a slashing call, the sophomore netminder stopped a point-blank shot by Humitz and seconds later, sprawled across the crease to make another nice save.

Things remained the same in the third period, although the Wildcats were a little sharper offensively. Salminen had another scoring opportunity early as he skated in hard toward Defiel, but his shot was deflected high by the goalie. Toward the midway point in the period, Defiel saved the Lakers again when he dove and knocked a rolling puck aside with his stick before Loggins could tap it into the open net.

The two teams play again tonight in Sault Ste. Marie to decide who wins the Cappo Cup. Game time is 7:07 p.m.

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