3 games in 5 days: Northern Michigan University hockey team repeats quick turnaround with busy week
This week’s games:
• 3:07 p.m. Wednesday, vs. Ferris State, at Big Rapids
• 6:07 p.m. Saturday, home vs. Minnesota State-Mankato
• 4:07 p.m. Sunday, home vs. Minnesota State-Mankato
• All games broadcast on radio station WUPT-The Point 100.3 FM
MARQUETTE — Maybe the fourth time will also be the charm for the Northern Michigan University hockey team this week.
The Wildcats will attempt to play three games in five days for the fourth time this season when they travel to Ferris State on Wednesday afternoon before returning home to face WCHA defending champion Minnesota State-Mankato on Saturday and Sunday.
The weekend series marks the start of the league season for NMU. But Northern isn’t behind anyone else as no team in the league has played a league game.
The WCHA revised its schedule recently as Alaska-Fairbanks joined Alaska-Anchorage in suspending hockey for 2020-21, meaning what should be the final season for the league will include just eight teams. Seven are departing the WCHA after this season to re-form the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, leaving Alabama-Huntsville and the two Alaska schools behind.
Twice before, in late November and early December, NMU had scheduled three games in less than a week’s time. At that point, both were three contests in four days — the season-opener at home against Lake Superior State on Nov. 25 and a home-and-home series with Michigan Tech on Nov. 27-28.
Right after that, the Wildcats were supposed to play a league game at LSSU on Dec. 2, then a home nonconference series vs. Bemidji State on Dec. 4-5.
All those games were canceled — though the LSSU league game has been rescheduled — due to coronavirus pandemic concerns.
Then they finally got in three games — their only three so far — in four days during mid-December. The Wildcats beat Ferris State 5-4 at home on Dec. 16 before Tech swept a home-and-home series on Dec. 18-19, taking the first game in Houghton 4-3 in overtime before prevailing 3-1 in Marquette.
Everything seems back on track for another quick turnaround of games for Northern.
The Ferris State game in Big Rapids, set for 3:07 p.m., is the second contest of the home-and-home “series” that began nearly two weeks ago.
Then the Wildcats have an unusual Saturday-Sunday series to avoid playing on New Year’s Day, hosting the Mavericks at 6:07 p.m. Saturday and 4:07 p.m. Sunday in the Berry Events Center in Marquette.
This is the only meeting between these teams as the WCHA has gone to a 14-game league schedule with the departure of the Alaska schools this season. The spots on the schedule vacated by the Anchorage and Fairbanks games have been replaced by nonconference series against other league teams, home against LSSU on Jan. 8-9 and at Bowling Green State on Jan. 15-16.
This nonconference game follows Northern’s big offensive output on Dec. 16 when three Wildcats notched their first collegiate points, according to a sports news release from NMU. Sophomore transfer Colby Enns got his first collegiate goal and freshmen Mack Byers and Noah Ganske each got their first assists.
Sophomore teammate AJ Vanderbeck earned the first multigoal game of his career with two goals and an assist, joining senior Brandon Schultz with a three-point night as the latter had a goal and two assists. Team captain Joe Nardi scored the game-winning goal.
In addition, the Wildcats’ Tanner Vescio doubled his point total of a year ago with two assists, while David Keefer joined Enns in scoring his first career goal.
All-time, Northern leads the series 65-30-6, including 25-13-4 on the road.
NMU has played the Mavericks 23 times with this Minnesota version of MSU leading 14-5-3. Three of Northern’s wins in the series have come at home at the BEC.
Most recently in a series in Marquette on Dec. 13-14, 2019, the teams split. The Mavs, No. 1 in the nation at the time, won the opener 5-2 before NMU bounced back for a 4-1 victory. Then-Northern freshman Mike Van Unen scored his first collegiate goal in the win, while now-assistant captain Ben Newhouse netted his first game-winner. Each earned a WCHA Player of the Week honor the following Monday.
All three games are available online in various capacities. Games will be broadcast on radio station WUPT The Point 100.3 FM and online at www.rrnsports.com.
Video can be seen at http://share.flosports.tv/SHI1 and info is available on social media at https://twitter.com/NMU_Wildcats and https://twitter.com/ NMUHockey.
Here are sites for live statistics for each game: Wednesday vs. Ferris, https://www.nmuwildcats.com/ sports/mice/2020-21/boxscores/20201230_0ess.xml, Saturday vs. Minnesota State, https://www.nmuwildcats.com/sports/mice/2020-21/boxscores/20210102_f195.xml and Sunday vs. MSU, https://www.nmuwildcats.com/sports/mice/2020-21/boxscores/20210103_x82t.xml.
Head coach Grant Potulny has begun his fourth season behind the Wildcats bench. In his first three seasons at NMU, he had a 64-47-9 record and led the team to a pair of 20-plus-win seasons.
Last season the team ranked as high as 15th in the nation, their highest ranking under Potulny.
In his first season, 2017-18, Potulny’s team went 25-15-3 season, its first 25-win season since 2001-02, and advanced to the WCHA championship game.
Statistically speaking in this young season, Vanderbeck’s 1.33 points per game ties him for 12th nationally, while his 1.00 goal-per-game average tops the country. Teammate Vincent de Mey is 16th in goals per game at 0.67.
Vescio and Enns are tied for 23rd in the nation among defensemen with a 0.67 point-per-game average.
As a team, NMU is 18th overall in scoring and 16th in combined special teams.
Last season, eight Northern players earned a combined dozen weekly league awards along with three WCHA Player of the Month laurels. Seven of those players are back this year.
Eighteen players who saw the ice last season are back, including all three goalies and three of the top four scorers. Some 79 goals and 219 points are back, led by league-leading scorer Griffin Loughran, who had 23 goals and 39 points as a sophomore.
New faces include transfers Keefer and Connor Ryckman. Keefer sat out last year due to transfer rules, while Ryckman is a goalie who looks to contend with returnee Nolan Kent to start in net.
Jett Jungels returns to the lineup having sat out last season due to injury.
The Wildcats were picked fourth in both WCHA preseason polls in selections by coaches and the media.
Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.