Falling just short
NMU?icers struggle with penalties, drop 6th straight to Michigan Tech
MARQUETTE — Two heated rivals, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan University, went at each other hard in a tight battle Friday night, but when the horn sounded, it was the Huskies who ended on top.
Tech took a 3-1 lead into the third period and weathered a flurry of shots in the final seconds to defeat the Wildcats 3-2.
Goalie Angus Redmond finished with 29 saves as the Huskies (18-12-7, 15-6-6-3 WCHA) earned their sixth straight win over NMU.
“I thought it was a hard-fought game and we got the bounces,” Huskies head coach Mel Pearson said. “It’s a game of inches and we got the breaks. It was two pretty good hockey teams going at it. I like Northern and I like them from the net out.”
“They played hard, did a lot of good things and put us on our heels. That’s the most shots that we’ve given up in a long time. They’re a tough out and we feel lucky.”
For the Wildcats (11-20-4, 9-15-3-1), it was a frustrating evening as they had several chances to pick up the win, but were crippled by penalties as NMU lost its third straight game after building a six-game win streak.
“I thought it was a hell of a game,” Wildcats head coach Walt Kyle said. “We got in trouble in the second period with penalties and we got tired. We had to kill a lot of minutes.
“They scored a power play goal and our power play didn’t get it done tonight. We had some real good kicks at it late, but their goalie played well. I thought the guys left it all out there. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.”
Tech had the first good opportunity as the Wildcats were whistled for interference less than a minute in. Huskies forward Joel L’Esperance almost made Northern pay for that, but his deflection was snagged by Wildcats goalie Atte Tolvanen.
A few seconds after killing off the penalty, NMU struck when forward Robbie Payne tapped a rebound under Redmond’s leg pad. The Huskies answered back, though, at the 11:54 mark.
After a long scrum in the crease where four players had fallen down and one of the refs climbed on top of the goal to find the puck, it squirted free in front of the net. With Tolvanen’s stick down and out of reach, Tech’s Cliff Watson took a pass from L’Esperance and went top shelf to tie it.
NMU had two decent chances to take the lead later in the period, but Gerard Hanson got tangled up with Redmond and couldn’t gather in a cross-ice pass, and about a minute later, the Huskies goalie just got a piece of a Payne wrister in the slot.
“Angus is a really good goaltender,” Pearson said. “He’s been extremely solid for us from Day 1 and even when he was going through some tough times, we let him know that he was going to be the guy, thick or thin.”
Just like the start of the game, NMU got called for a penalty in the first few seconds of the second period. This time, it was a five-minute major on Connor Frantti, who decked Tech’s Mark Auk and caused him to fall down in a heap onto the ice.
The Wildcats killed off the penalty as well as a two-minute call midway through, but the Huskies eventually took the lead at the 11:06 mark. Tech made a nice rush at the net and Thomas Beretta beat Tolvanen five-hole. At the 16:45 mark, NMU’s penalties finally burned them. With Darien Craighead in the box for slashing, Tech’s Shane Hanna got a nice feed and fired a shot over Tolvanen’s glove.
Pearson called a timeout before the power play began and he said it helped the Huskies refocus.
“We had to sort some things out,” Pearson said. “We were doing a good job, but we were forcing some things on the power play. We were trying to make plays that weren’t there.”
In need of a goal to keep their hopes for a victory alive, the Wildcats got it at the 6:59 mark of the third period. Defenseman Ryan Black put a shot on net that went off Redmond’s back and rolled into the net to give the sophomore his first tally of the season.
“I can’t even remember the last time I scored, to be honest,” Black said with a smile. “It feels really good to get that one off my back and hopefully there will be more.
“Brock passed it to me on the left side and I just tried to put it on net. I don’t know what happened after that. The guys asked ‘Why didn’t you celebrate?’ and I didn’t even know it went in until the guys came over to me.”
NMU also had two great chances late in the frame, but Redmond came up big for the Huskies. He snagged a slap shot from Jordan Klimek and then managed to keep his left skate to the near post to deny three straight attempts by the Wildcats in the last 10 seconds.
With Alabama-Huntsville losing to Bowling Green State, the Wildcats remain in eighth place and hold the final playoff spot by one point. NMU can clinch its postseason bid tonight with a win over the Huskies in Houghton.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal. net.