MARQUETTE - With its final bye week of the season out of the way, the Northern Michigan University hockey team begins its giant game of catch-up at 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday against Alaska at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.
The Wildcats (6-5-1 in WCHA, 8-10-2 overall) sit eighth in the WCHA with 13 points, but are only one of four teams to have a league record above .500.
Northern has played a league-low 12 games against WCHA foes thus far, trailing first-place Ferris State and last-place Alabama-Huntsville by two; Minnesota State, Alaska-Anchorage, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech and Alaska by four; and Bowling Green and Bemidji State by six games.
Despite the discrepancy, NMU leads the Nanooks by a point, trails LSSU and Tech by one and with a sweep of the Nanooks, could leap over the Seawolves and be as high as fifth by the end of the weekend.
Second place would also be within striking distance.
Bemidji, who the Wildcats swept before the bye, is just five points up on NMU in fourth.
NMU hockey remaining schedule
(Home games in CAPS)
Jan. 17-18 ALASKA
Jan. 24-25 at Alaska-Anchorage
Jan. 31-Feb. 1 MINNESOTA STATE
Feb. 7-8 at Ferris State
Feb. 14-15 LAKE SUPERIOR STATE
Feb. 21 at Michigan Tech
Feb. 22 MICHIGAN TECH
Feb. 28-Mar. 1 BOWLING GREEN
Mar. 7-9 at Alabama-Huntsville
"(Our) team was really good two weeks ago at Bemidji," NMU redshirt freshman goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom said. "If we can keep that up, I think we can be really good and end up in a good spot."
Northern closes the 2013-14 regular season with eight straight weekends of WCHA play, including four series at the BEC, plus a Saturday, Feb. 22 meeting against Michigan Tech in Marquette.
NMU head coach Walt Kyle said he doesn't like where the Wildcats sit in the WCHA standings, but with four to six games in hand on most of the league, he doesn't mind.
- Mining Journal: Dahlstrom proving to be worth the Wildcats' wait
- NMUWildcats.com: Alaska at NMU live audio
- NMUWildcats.com: Alaska at NMU live stats
- WCHA TV: Alaska at NMU live video ($)
- AlaskaNanooks.com: Alaska game notes
- NewsMiner.com: Nanooks look to reverse fortunes at Northern Michigan
- WCHA.com: League standings
The Wildcats will get to within at least two games of the entire league by Feb. 9. The entire league will be even heading into the final weekend of play March 7-8.
"Games in hand I've found out over my career are just that," Kyle said. "They are just games in hand until you win them. We can't look too hard at that.
"What those games gives us is an opportunity and now it's up to us to take ahold of that opportunity."
In the WCHA, the top four seeds host first-round best-of-three playoff series against the No. 5-8 seeds to decide who makes the WCHA championship weekend in Grand Rapids.
The teams that finish ninth and 10th do not make the WCHA playoffs.