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Wildcat?icers muzzle Ferris State for 4th time

NMU’s Darien Craighead, left and FSU’s Nate Kallen in action Saturday evening, December 16, 2017 at the Berry Events Center (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

MARQUETTE — It isn’t easy to sweep a team twice in a season, but the Northern Michigan University hockey team made it look that way Saturday night.

Northern sophomore Darien Craighead pumped in three goals for his second hat trick of the season as the Wildcats took down Ferris State 4-2.

With the victory, NMU (10-8-2, 8-4-2 WCHA) is off to its best first-half start in years and is currently in a three-way tie for second place in the WCHA with Bowling Green State and Michigan Tech.

“They’re (Ferris) kind of built for their rink and we’re trying to build for our rink,” Wildcats head coach Grant Potulny said. “Here I thought we tried to play fast and we talked about turning the speed limit up and making them skate.

“Tonight was a tough game and I think we didn’t start the game as sharp as I would’ve liked, but the penalty kill did a great job in the first period. That kind of got us into the game and after those two kills, we kind of found our legs and got going.”

Defense was the story of the first period as both teams were limited to only a few good scoring chances.

FSU’s best opportunity came in the opening minute when forward Mitch Maloney got a good look in front of NMU goalie Atte Tolvanen, but the goalie knocked it aside.

Midway through the period, Northern got its first chance when Loggins had Bulldogs goalie Darren Smith beat at the far post, but couldn’t get the puck past him.

The Wildcats got on the board on their second good opportunity. During a scrum in front and after Smith made two sprawling saves, Craighead wristed a shot over the goalie’s blocker to put the ‘Cats up 1-0 heading into the second period.

“I just tried to get around the net,” Craighead said. “We knew the goalie was going to give us some rebounds and kudos to our ‘D’ for putting some pucks on net there. They just kind of popped out in front of me, so I just had to bang them in.”

After the slow-moving first period, the Wildcats caught fire in the second. After almost getting even-strength goals from Zach Diamantoni and Robbie Payne, Northern padded its lead at the 6:07 mark while on the penalty kill.

With Diamantoni in the box for slashing, an errant pass from Ferris was picked off by Loggins, who raced up center ice and rang a shot off the near post and past Smith.

Less than two minutes later, Craighead notched his second goal after receiving a pass from Ryan Black and depositing the puck into a wide-open net by the far post.

Ferris got one back early in the third on a careless play by the Wildcats. With the Bulldogs killing a penalty, forward Corey Mackin forced a turnover and beat Tolvanen five-hole for a shorthanded tally. Tolvanen appeared to have made the save, but the puck trickled out behind him and into the net.

Then Craighead ended any hopes of a FSU comeback with his third goal of the night. With Northern on the man advantage, he got a nice backhand past from Joseph Nardi and wristed a shot into an open net. The Bulldogs did pick up a late power-play goal by Drew Dorantes, but it was much too late to build off it.

The Wildcats are off until the weekend of Dec. 29-30, when they play at Minnesota State.

Craighead said the team is feeling good about its performance so far at the halfway point in the season.

“Any time you can get a sweep before the break, not only is it good for us in the league, it’s good for us mentally,” he said. “Just knowing that we are on top of our game here is good and we’ve put in the work to do so.”

Potulny echoed Craighead’s thoughts and thinks his team will come out ready to go after the holiday break for the second half.

“I couldn’t be more excited and proud of where our group is,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming for these guys to have the success that we’ve had. It’s the first time in 15 years where we’ve had 10 wins at our Christmas break, so we feel good about where we’re at and now they have a chance to feel good about what they’ve done. I think they’ll come back sharp and ready to go.”

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