Friday night special
NMU?icers use penalty kill, power play to top Huntsville, end 3-game skid
MARQUETTE — After a long two-week stretch on the road, the Northern Michigan University hockey team returned home Friday and the Wildcats decided to make it a special night.
“Special” as in special teams as all of the Wildcats goals came either from its power play or penalty kill units. NMU (8-7, 6-3 WCHA) used two shorthanded goals in the second period and a power play tally from Zach Diamantoni to take down Alabama-Huntsville 3-1 and end a three-game losing streak.
Wildcats goalie Mathias Israelsson made 15 saves to earn his second victory in net.
“I thought early in the game that we didn’t get what we deserved,” Northern head coach Grant Potulny said. “I thought we had a really good start and that was important to us. We didn’t start on time in Omaha and tonight we did.
“If you keep staying with the game plan, you’re going to get rewarded. You earn what you get in this game. We earned that lead (in the second period) and now we had to keep going and get goals three, four and five. I thought we did a good job closing the game out.”
Israelsson, who had been splitting ice time with Atte Tolvanen most of the season, finally got his chance to emerge as the No. 1 goalie.
“It’s so much fun playing,” he said. “It was a great opportunity to get in net again and get a bounce-back game. I didn’t think I played great last weekend against Omaha, so it was just fun to play again and get a win.”
Potulny also praised his goalie for staying sharp despite not facing many shots over the course of the night.
“I thought he looked good,” he said. “We gave up the first goal, and it’s tough for a goalie when you haven’t seen a lot of pucks and you give up the first goal on a tough bounce.
“There were probably four or five moments in the game where we needed him to make a save and he did. Pucks were kind of bouncing around, too. Whether they hit our ‘D’ or a pass wasn’t completed, they were bouncing in front of him and he found them.
“He was on top of his crease and that to me was a big thing with him. When he’s on top of his crease, he looks really good. In that position, when you don’t have confidence, you tend to retreat. He showed that he had confidence tonight and that was a really big game for him and for us. Hopefully, we can get that effort again tomorrow.”
NMU’s penalty kill had mixed results in the second period in that it managed to look both good and bad. It started off on a bad note as the Chargers (5-9-1, 4-4-1) took advantage of a lucky bounce in front of Israelsson and forward Christian Rajic beat him to the near post to give UAH a 1-0 lead.
After that, though, the Wildcats penalty killers went back into lockdown mode, just like they have been the last few games, and it eventually got them on the scoreboard.
Northern forward Adam Rockwood forced a Huntsville turnover at the blue line, streaked down the near boards and passed the puck to Troy Loggins, who one-timed it past Chargers goalie Jordan Uhelski.
Less than two minutes later with Loggins in the box, Rockwood connected on a goal of his own. After Uhelski kicked aside a shot in the crease from Robbie Payne, Rockwood collected it and deposited it into the net to put the Wildcats up 2-1.
The Wildcats padded their lead to two goals early in the third period when Diamantoni ended his scoring drought with a power-play tally. With the puck sitting in front of the crease, the senior center tapped it under Uhelski’s leg pad and the Wildcats made it 3-1. Just a couple of minutes later, Diamantoni almost picked up his second goal, but his shorthanded shot rang just off the pipe.
“That shorthanded goal that Troy scored was huge,” Potulny said. “We had given one up and we had a couple of power plays where we lost some momentum in the game. If they scored, it’s 2-0 and that makes it a tough game. You’re really chasing the game then.
“Adam made a great play with a great stick and had a 2-on-1 and I think everyone on our bench knew he was going to pass it to Loggy. After that, he just goes to the net. We recovered a puck on the forecheck by Robbie and Adam goes to the net and scores a goal.
“That was a really good performance by him and I feel good for Zach, too. He took a penalty earlier in the game and that was kind of an emotional penalty. They scored on a tough bounce and it was nice for him get one back. He has been playing really hard the right way and he’s been a great leader so it was good to see some offensive contribution from him.”
Northern looked good offensively in the opening period, outshooting the Chargers 15-3. However, they couldn’t put any of them in the net despite some solid opportunities.
The first chance came with 15 minutes left when Uhelski fell over in front of the net, but both of NMU’s shots went wide. The other two chances came late in the frame from Loggins. The forward snapped a wrister on a short rush, but Uhelski snared it with his glove. With a little more than two minutes left and Northern on the power play, Loggins had a great look on a one-timer, but Uhelski just got a piece of the shot to keep the game scoreless.
The two teams tangle again at 7 p.m. today at the Berry Events Center.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.