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Wildcats’ good effort not good enough

No. 19-ranked NMU falls to rival MTU, loses third straight game

Northern’s Caleb Schroer takes on Michigan Tech’s Logan Pietila in the game Saturday November 23, 2019 at the Berry Events Center. (Journal photo by Amy Grigas)

MARQUETTE — Sometimes in hockey, a team can give everything it can on the ice, but it just isn’t good enough in the end.

That’s how Northern Michigan University head coach Grant Potulny felt Saturday after the No. 19-ranked Wildcats fell to rival Michigan Tech 3-2 at the Berry Events Center. The loss gave the Huskies (7-6, 5-5 WCHA) the weekend sweep and NMU (7-5-2, 5-3) has now lost three games in a row.

“For three minutes last night, when we got penalties, and for maybe five or six minutes in the first period, I didn’t think we played great,” Potulny said. “The rest of that time was as good as we could play. I thought the penalties were very, very lopsided and that’s very disappointing. It’s hard when you’re in the box a lot. It’s a challenge. Their goaltender (Matt Jurusik), that’s as good of a two-game segment as any goalie whose played against us. Maybe any goalie I’ve played back-to-back nights against. Going back to (Wade) Dubielewicz that played for Denver, which means nobody to anybody, but (back) when I was a player. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve seen a kid play that good.”

Huskies head coach Joe Shawhan praised the Wildcats’ efforts and felt that his team was lucky to come out of the weekend with two victories.

“I thought it was a gutsy effort,” he said. “We came out and played probably 32 or 33 minutes of really good hockey. Northern pushed hard and did a great job. It was 3-0 and all of a sudden, it’s 3-2 and they gave themselves a chance. They competed extremely well. They won battles, they beat us to loose pucks in the zone.

“We weren’t able to maintain anything because guys are trying to play cautious and not give things up either. So I give Northern a lot of credit. They’re extremely well-coached, highly competitive. They did a great job. We feel very fortunate to come out with the success that we had this weekend.”

NMU started putting pressure on Jurusik and the Huskies defense from the start of the game as Hank Sorensen and Vincent de Mey both got shots on net in the first minute. However, it was the Huskies who got on the scoreboard first as Raymond Brice beat Wildcats goalie John Hawthorne low to put Tech up 1-0 with 17:52 remaining in the first period.

MTU ended up leading in shots 12-10 after the first period, but Northern had the better scoring opportunities. Just a few seconds after the Brice goal, Joe Nardi had a shot in the slot saved by Jurusik, but the rebound went right to de Mey. The sophomore got a shot off, but Jurusik made a sprawling save by the far post to keep it out of the net.

Griffin Loughran also had a chance in the slot with 14:17 remaining and de Mey had a shot ring off the post with eight minutes left, but the Wildcats couldn’t cash in for the remainder of the period.

In the second period, Northern again had an early opportunity as Garrett Klee collected a loose puck at center ice and broke free into the Huskies defensive zone shorthanded. However, Jurusik made a sliding save to the far post to deny him. Tech, on the other hand, took advantage of its first scoring chance of the period. With 14 minutes remaining, Alec Broetzman skated into the slot and fired a shot that ran off the pipe and past Hawthorne.

Visibly frustrated at this point, the Wildcats tried to generate more offense midway through the period. Andre Ghantous sending a cross-ice pass over to Ben Newhouse at the right circle. Newhouse had the angle on Jurusik, but the senior got a piece of it to keep the puck out with 9:40 left. Two minutes later, Phil Beaulieu rang a shot off the near post and Northern’s lack of puck luck against Jurusik continued.

“Matt’s been tremendous,” Shawhan said “He’s on a hot streak. He’s been our stabilizer and that was the difference in both games this weekend. If you don’t have good goaltending, it goes the other way for sure. You have to have it in order to try to beat the 18th or 19th ranked team in the country, which Northern is and deservedly so.”

The Huskies’ luck continued though. Two Wildcats players fall down in the slot in front of Hawthorne, which gave Tech defenseman Eric Gotz a wide-open net and he snapped it in to put the Huskies up 3-0. Hawthorne was then pulled for teammate Nolan Kent.

NMU had one last good chance before the period break as it swarmed around the Huskies net with Hank Sorensen and Grant Loven both getting shots off. However, Jurusik made both saves and flopped across the crease to keep the Wildcats from scoring off a rebound.

It looked as if the Wildcats’ offensive struggles were going to continue in the third, but Northern finally got on the board at the 6:55 mark. De Mey sent a pass from the near post to Loughran at the left circle and the forward’s shot went off Jurusik and trickled into the net. With 1:12 remaining and Kent on the bench for the extra attacker, NMU defenseman Adam Roeder fired a shot that deflected off Jurusik and inside the near post to cut the Wildcats’ deficit to one at 3-2.

A fight broke out in the final seconds in the corner of the MTU defensive zone with a bunch of penalties being handed out, including 5-minute majors and 10-minute game misconducts to Loughran and MTU’s Justin Misiak. However, the penalties didn’t have any effect on the final outcome.

As disappointing as the ending was, Potulny looked for positives and said that the two losses won’t “define” his team.

“I said to the guys that I’m disappointed for them,” he said. “I’m disappointed and you hurt. It almost has the feel of the last game of the year because they care. They really do. But two games in November doesn’t define a team. It’s almost like you have to have a couple of these before you can come out of whatever funk you’re in. Both nights, if you would’ve told me we would’ve played the way we played both nights, I would’ve signed up for it every day, all day. Their goalie played great.”

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