MARQUETTE - The Northern Michigan University hockey team should have revenge on its mind this weekend when squaring off against the program that ended its previous two seasons - Bowling Green State.
The Wildcats don't, however. Or at least that's what they're saying publicly.
According to the 'Cats, what's really on their minds is securing home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
Northern Michigan University’s Ryan Daugherty battles Bowling Green State’s Marc Rodriguez for position during Game 3 of a CCHA first-round playoff series on March 4 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal file photo by Matt Keiser)
Bowling Green State celebrates a goal during Game 3 of a CCHA first-round playoff series on March 4 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. BGSU won 4-1 to upset NMU and win the series. (Journal file photo by Matt Keiser)
That's believable considering Northern's only road win in conference play this season came six days ago at Michigan State.
"You're certainly bitter you lost those two games. But the reality is, I don't think of them any different than anybody else right now, except for (Michigan) Tech," NMU head coach Walt Kyle said.
"We want to get home ice. We've been significantly better over the course of the year at home, so to try to get that spot is really, really important."
Sitting five points back of the eighth-place Falcons in the CCHA standings with four games remaining in the regular season, the ninth-place Wildcats will need at least one win to stay alive mathematically.
They'll also need at least a tie to have any realistic shot at hosting a first-round, best-of-three league playoff series in Marquette on March 8-10.
Puck drop between BGSU and NMU is set for 7:05 p.m. on Friday and Saturday in Bowling Green, Ohio.
The Wildcats' final regular season series is set for March 1-2 against seventh-place Lake Superior State at the Berry Events Center, where NMU is 7-3-3 this year.
"We owe (BGSU), but at the same time, we have to respect them. We know they're a good team. We have to stay disciplined and play our game," NMU junior forward Stephan Vigier said.
"We're chasing these guys in the standings, too, so when you look at it that way, it's a big deal.
"We need both of these wins whether we're playing Bowling Green or Michigan," he added. "It's a big weekend."
Once the Wildcats' own personal house of horrors at BGSU, the 'Cats are 3-0-1 in their last four regular-season games over the past two seasons against the Falcons at the BGSU Ice Arena.
Prior to the 2010-11 season, NMU was 11-21-2 all time at Bowling Green dating back to the first time the two schools met in 1977.
The regular season is not what's on the mind of certain Wildcats like Vigier, though. It's postseason play.
The Falcons have rallied from Game 1 losses to upset the Wildcats in back-to-back years in best-of-three CCHA first-round playoff series at the Berry Events Center.
The 2011-12 defeat cost NMU a spot in the NCAA tournament.
"I think there's something to be said for the last couple of years' playoff series," BGSU third-year head coach Chris Bergeron said. "Is (Walt) going to harp on that to his team? Probably not. Those kids, they want to make amends for that.
"Our guys have to be ready. They're right behind us in the standings. They're fighting for good things, too. They are by no means out of any race."
Vigier said this weekend's series has been circled on the calendars of some Wildcats all season.
But for others, like third-year sophomore Reed Seckel, the playoff losses are in the past.
Seckel, who leads NMU in goals with 12, is one of 14 current Wildcats who were on the roster for the 2010-11 playoff defeat, with 20 returning from last year's squad.
BGSU returns 12 from 2010-11 and 22 from a year ago.
"Bowling Green is Bowling Green - a hard team that works really hard," Seckel said.
"They did what they did the last two years. That's over with. Let's go play some hockey."
Two key Falcons from last year's playoff series in Marquette haven't been as influential this season for Bowling Green.
BGSU junior goaltender Andrew Hammond, who appeared in goal in all six playoff games against NMU the previous two seasons, has missed the last four games due to injury.
He's questionable for this weekend's series.
Hammond's understudy, freshman Tommy Burke, has gone 2-2 in the last four games in goal. In his 12 appearances this season, he's giving up an average of 2.15 goals per game with a .908 saves percentage.
"I'm not hiding anything. Hammy has not skated," Bergeron said during his press conference on Tuesday, "because we feel like he's in great condition and he's really strong.
"So to have him go out on the ice and tweak it and take a step sideways or backwards doesn't make any sense."
Meanwhile, in the scoring department, sophomore Dan DeSalvo only has three goals to go with his 17 assists in 32 games this season after scoring 14 goals and 11 assists as a freshman.
Five of those goals and one assist came against NMU in the playoffs, including two goals and an assist in the second period of the decisive Game 3 victory.
DeSalvo then went on to post five goals and two assists against Ferris State in the second round. His two third-period goals and OT score in Game 3 sent BGSU to the CCHA semifinals at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
"I'd like to see Dan DeSalvo get hot scoring goals," Bergeron said. "I think he's got three goals on the year. He had three goals in a period once last year."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens.