3rd-period meltdown

NMU?gives up late goal as Huntsville forces deciding game tonight

Northern Michigan’s Darien Craighead keeps his eye on the puck in Alabama-Huntsville’s zone Saturday night, Mar. 3, 2018, at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

MARQUETTE — With time running out Saturday night, it appeared as if Game 2 of WCHA playoff series between Northern Michigan University and Alabama-Huntsville was headed to overtime.

Chargers forward Josh Kestner felt otherwise, though. With 29 seconds left in the third period, he sent a shot through traffic and past NMU goalie Atte Tolvanen to give Huntsville a 3-2 victory and push the series to a deciding third game tonight. NMU and Huntsville have now split their six games between each other this season.

NMU head coach Grant Potulny felt his team made too many mistakes and Huntsville’s big line of Kestner, Tyler Poulsen and Hans Gorowsky were key in the Chargers’ win.

“Two of their three goals started with mismanagement of pucks and we made a play on our back end into an area where there was no play to be made,” he said. “That line had all three goals and he (Kestner) had two of them and there’s a reason that he’s got 23 (goals) on the year.

“We didn’t gap well enough. That’s what happens when you keep a game alive for the other team to that point in the game. It’s just a one-shot deal.”

When asked if he thought the game would be that tight, Potulny said absolutely.

“I thought it was going to be a 3-2 or 2-1 game,” he said. “I thought it was going to be hard to generate offense. I thought we’d be better than we were. That’s the disappointing part. I think that there were opportunities in the game for us to take the game over. We just didn’t do it.”

The No. 19 Wildcats had chances to take the lead several times in the third. Chargers goalie Jordan Uhelski kept a loose puck in the crease out with his foot with 15:10 remaining. Midway through the period, a give-and-go between Darien Craighead and Troy Loggins was blocked in front and Adam Rockwood’s shot on the rebound went wide. Uhelski also stopped Joseph Nardi with 8:37 left and made a nice save on Robbie Payne at the near post to keep the game deadlocked at 2-2.

The second period was when both teams started to capitalize. Huntsville got the first one as Josh Kestner forced a turnover and got a breakaway on Tolvanen. Kestner had Tolvanen beat on the goal, but his shot deflected off the pipe and out. Seconds later at the other end, Loggins fired a one-timer past Uhelski.

Northern appeared to be in control, but Kestner made up for his earlier miss at the 11:47 mark. He created another turnover and while on a rush, he snapped a shot under Tolvanen’s elbow. Less than three minutes later, the Wildcats retook the lead on a nice offensive play. NMU defenseman Phil Beaulieu faked a shot and passed it to Mitch Slattery, who tapped it past Uhelski.

That advantage didn’t last. Behind the NMU net, a puck squirted loose near the point in the slot and Huntsville’s Adam Wilcox lunged forward and flipped it over Tolvanen to tie the game headed to the final period.

Potulny said that he thought there were two reasons why the Wildcats had such a difficult time keeping the Chargers at bay when they had opportunities to put the game away.

“I think a couple of things,” he said. “No. 1, any time you’re in a situation where you’re going to end somebody’s season, it’s difficult…. No. 2, I think maybe (there was) a false sense of security after the game last night with the big number we put up.

“We played OK, but we didn’t play on our toes. We didn’t play Wildcat hockey. We were tentative and I don’t think we were as quick to pucks as I would’ve liked. I think our energy was just OK and when that happens, it’s kind of a roll of the dice for us.

“The challenge (tonight) is to put this to bed and make sure that we’re laser-focused to come out. There’s a reason that it’s best-of-three. You’ve got to find a way to win two. It’s a race to two. So it’s even-Steven just like our series all year.

“For whatever reason, we have a hard time with them. (Today), we have to make sure that there’s no doubt.”

Unlike Friday’s offensive explosion, the Chargers kept the Wildcats under control in the first period as Northern didn’t register its first shot until nearly six minutes had elapsed.

Huntsville got the first good scoring chance midway through the first period as Tyler Poulsen’s wrister deflected off Kestner and almost over Tolvanen, but the goalie collected the rebound and covered in time.

NMU didn’t register a decent scoring opportunity until the last couple of minutes of the period. After Uhelski denied a clear look by Denver Pierce, Nardi charged hard toward the net, but Uhelski got a piece of his shot and deflected it into the netting behind the net.

Tonight’s game is set for 7 o’clock at the Berry Events Center.

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