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Pull off the upset: Northern Michigan University hockey team takes down No. 1 Minnesota State-Mankato 4-1 for series split

Northern Michigan University’s Vincent de Mey, left, vies for the puck with Minnesota State-Mankato’s Andy Carrol on Saturday night at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

“I don’t think there’s anybody that I’ll look back in this game and say they didn’t have their best game.” — Grant Potulny, head coach, NMU hockey

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MARQUETTE — It took everything the Northern Michigan University hockey team had Saturday night, but it paid off after the Wildcats recorded their biggest win of the season.

After committing costly penalties and being forced into using all three goaltenders in a Friday home loss to No. 1 Minnesota State, NMU got the job done on Saturday night, holding the potent Mavericks’ offense to just one goal and only four shots in the third period as they took down the Mavericks 4-1 at the Berry Events Center.

That’s the first time Northern has beaten the No. 1 team in the country since October 2011 when it beat Michigan.

“It took everybody,” Wildcats head coach Grant Potulny said. “We talked before the game; we can’t have any passengers. If you think back throughout the game, moments that really stick out is early in the game, we had a little breakdown and their ‘D’ had a chance to walk right down Broadway and Vinny (de Mey) just took a missile.

“That’s the difference between that getting on the net and causing havoc, or building your bench up. He sacrificed his body.

“To the second period, we give up a breakaway after a disjointed five-minute major (penalty). Usually those things end up going in your net when you’re playing like that and (goalie) Nolan (Kent) stands tall.

“To the end of the second period, they really had it going on us and the (Luke) Voltin line was out there and they were tired. (Defensemen Rylan) Yaremko and (Tanner) Vescio had been out there for a little bit and they’re tired. It’s that second little bit to get (the puck) over the blue line and change (lines).

“To the third period to hold the No. 1 team in the country to four shots on net. I don’t know if they’ve ever had a period where they’ve only had four shots.

“So it was everybody. I don’t think there’s anybody that I’ll look back in this game and say they didn’t have their best game.”

Things got off to a sloppy start for the Wildcats (9-7-2, 7-5 WCHA) in the second period as they had the remainder of a five-minute power play expire with no scoring chances. Then at the other end of the ice, Kent had to make a sliding save on a shorthanded attempt by Mankato’s Nick Rivera.

The power play may have been a bust for Northern, but it got on the scoreboard not long after that as Michael Van Unen put a weak shot on net from the slot that managed to get through traffic and past Mavericks goalie Jacob Berger.

Two minutes later, Mankato (15-2-1, 10-2) almost answered back, but NMU defenseman Ben Newhouse made a diving attempt as he blocked a Mavericks’ shot.

NMU couldn’t keep Mankato at bay for long, though. After Kent stopped Connor Mackey on a shorthanded breakaway with 11 minutes left, the Mavericks tied it up when Jake Jaremko got a cross-ice pass from Jack McNeely and beat Kent low with 9:31 remaining.

However, with 6:46 left, Northern answered back. Just seconds into a Wildcats power play, Newhouse sent a shot from the left circle that went off the far post and into the net to put NMU ahead.

Kent preserved the slim advantage by making saves on Parker Tuomie with 5:07 left and Dallas Gerads with the Wildcats on a penalty kill. Kent made 30 saves to get the victory in net after getting pulled in the first period the night before.

Potulny was proud of his goalie’s bounce-back performance.

“I actually apologized to him today,” Potulny said. “From the bench, I didn’t like how those goals looked (Friday) because they were kind of middle-of-the-net goals. When those go in, usually, you feel your goalie doesn’t have it. We have a camera that has a different vantage point from what the goalie sees. Obviously, I don’t have access to that on the bench.

“(That camera showed that) he couldn’t see either (goal). We had guys in front of him, which is fine, but you’ve got to block it. Our guys got five-holed and he’s trying to react to it.

“So I apologized to him. I said ‘Nolan, I’m sorry. I thought you didn’t have it.’ Then seeing that vantage point, it was clear that he was the guy to go back with.

“Hopefully, this builds for him. To be honest, he’s played well. The last four games he’s played well. We need somebody to give us some stability in there.

“Tonight, he was outstanding. He was great. We gave up some real good looks and he made saves at really important times to allow us to kind of get back into it again. We talked about that with Atte (Tolvanen) a lot. He’d make that really important save at a really important time and then we can get back to our game and Nolan did that tonight.”

In the third period, the Wildcats played lockdown defense on the Mavericks. Mankato managed very little offense with the only decent chance coming on a power play midway through, but Kent made the save on a shot by Mackey. Northern later clinched the win with empty-net goals from Andre Ghantous and Griffin Loughran.

The first period was pretty evenly played. Mankato put pressure on Kent early and almost got on the scoreboard when the sophomore netminder tried to play the puck behind the net and was late getting back. However, he recovered in time and batted away a shot by Reggie Lutz.

With 2:40 left, NMU got a golden chance as Mankato’s Nathan Smith was handed a five-minute major for boarding. With the time remaining in the period, the Wildcats got two shots from de Mey and another from Hank Sorensen, but Berger managed to keep all of them out.

Newhouse says the locker room feels good as it heads into the long holiday break.

“It’s huge, especially going into break,” he said. “There’s a big difference between looking at 8-8-2 and 9-7-2 and beating the No. 1 team in the country. They’ve lost once (before Saturday) and they’ve got the No. 1 goalie, and they’ve been dominating teams the entire year.

“Obviously, it feels great. We’ve got (Bowling Green) when we come back so it’s going to be super important to keep that going.”

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