Northern Michigan University Wildcats seeking more wins in Alaska this weekend
MARQUETTE — Things appear to have turned around for the Northern Michigan University hockey team.
After getting a momentum boost with a home sweep over Ferris State before the holiday break, the Wildcats traveled to the Last Frontier a week ago for a great opportunity to climb in the WCHA.
And NMU took advantage. On Friday, NMU scored less than a minute in and goaltender Atte Tolvanen tied a school record with his 12th career shutout in a 4-0 win over Alaska in Fairbanks.
On Saturday, Northern trailed Alaska 1-0 going into the third period before defenseman Phil Beaulieu scored three straight power play goals in three minutes to change the course of the game and help the Wildcats earn the sweep with a 4-2 victory.
The victories moved the Wildcats (11-10, 10-4 WCHA) into third place in the conference standings, making NMU head coach Grant Potulny pleased.
“I feel like there’s just a difference sense about our group right now,” Potulny said. “Each game, we’re starting to look more and more like the team that we’d thought we would be.
“During both games, there was just so much energy on the bench and usually when you have that kind of energy, you play well.”
With a four-game winning streak, the Wildcats move south in the 50th state to face Alaska-Anchorage (2-17-1, 1-12-1) this weekend. The Wildcats swept the Seawolves in Marquette in November and things haven’t gotten better for Anchorage.
The Seawolves have only picked up one win since then. Anchorage struggles in all areas, particularly with its nationally last-place offense.
Despite all of that, Potulny said the Seawolves’ record is deceiving.
“We watched them on video and they really play hard for their coach (Matt Curley),” he said. “They seem to like him and that’s a powerful thing.
“We watched some video…. They’re right in every game. They defend hard and they outshot a good Lake (Superior) State team both nights.
“They’re back home now and after they played us in November, they haven’t been home until last weekend…. I think Friday is going to be a really tough challenge.
“To take 30-plus shots both nights against Lake State tells you how well they’re playing.”
The Wildcats handled Alaska (4-14-2, 4-9-1) on Friday. Then Saturday, the Wildcats needed Beaulieu and the power play unit to blitz the Nanooks in the third period.
“Friday, we played with an incredible amount of pace,” Potulny said. “We were maintaining possession of the puck and we had speed through the neutral zone. I think that was just a big determining factor of the game.
“Saturday, (the Nanooks) played a much better game. They were physical and playing with much more pace. There wasn’t a lot of room on the rink.
“We hit the power play going like that. For Phil to score three goals that fast, we were joking after the game that I don’t know how many defensemen have scored three goals in a period and I can’t imagine that many guys in college hockey that have scored three goals that fast.”
The sweep propelled the Wildcats into third place in the WCHA past Michigan Tech, three points behind leader Minnesota State, which is ranked No. 7 and 8 in the country, and one behind Nos. 10-12 Bowling Green. Northern’s next two series are against those teams, so getting a pair of wins at Anchorage could be another confidence booster down the road.
“There are four of us that are bunched up next to each other,” Potulny said. “You can’t have any slip-ups because those other teams are going to continue to play well and get points. So we need to be sure that we continue to get our points and that sets up for two really big series coming up with Mankato and Bowling Green. That might be the deciding factor on who finishes where in the league.”
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal. net.