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Coal in the stocking: Michigan Tech Huskies finish off sweep of Northern Michigan University Wildcat skaters in Marquette on Saturday night, 3-1

Northern Michigan University defenseman Michael Van Unen, front, looks for a teammate to pass to as Michigan Tech’s Justin Misiak defends during the first period of their nonconference hockey game played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Saturday. (Photo courtesy Shannon Stieg)

“I just don’t think we were prepared to play the game to the level required to win a game.” — Grant Potulny, NMU hockey head coach, after the Wildcats lost 3-1 Saturday to complete Michigan Tech’s sweep

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MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University hockey team was hoping to get a nice present heading into the holiday break in the form of

Instead, the Huskies gave the Wildcats some coal for their stockings as Tech completed a sweep on Saturday with a 3-1 win over the Wildcats at the Berry Events Center. It also marked NMU’s fourth straight loss to the Huskies.

NMU lost a heartbreaker in overtime at the Huskies’ rink on Friday, so the common thought was that Northern would come out firing from the opening puck drop the following night.

Northern Michigan University defenseman Ben Newhouse, left, brings the puck up the ice as Michigan Tech's Alec Broetzman defends during the second period of their nonconference game played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Saturday. (Photo courtesy Shannon Stieg)

But that didn’t happen as the ‘Cats were on their heels from the start, getting outshot 13-5 in the first period, with the shot discrepancy staying that way for the majority of the game.

Northern goalie Connor Ryckman was dealt his first loss in net despite making 29 saves.

“It was almost a tale of two games,” Wildcats head coach Grant Potulny said. “The game started and it was our third game in four nights after not playing any hockey.

“On the bench, I felt like we didn’t have energy. At first, you started to think like ‘Boy, maybe you shouldn’t have scheduled that game on Wednesday’ because coming out of COVID(-19) and some of that stuff.

“Then as the game went, I thought we got stronger. So it wasn’t as much physically as it was probably mental fatigue for them. I just don’t think we were prepared to play the game to the level required to win a game.”

The Huskies took advantage of NMU’s lack of energy and put pressure on Ryckman from the start, forcing the redshirt junior to make two quick saves and then a nifty glove save a little more than six minutes in. Then with about nine minutes remaining in the opening period, Tech had a golden opportunity after Ryckman blocked a shot by Greyson Reitmeier that left the puck sitting in the crease, but a Wildcats defenseman cleared it out just in time.

MTU cashed in on its next scoring chance, though. With the Huskies breaking free on a rush, winger Alec Broetzman fired a shot under the crossbar as he was falling over to put Tech up 1-0 with 13 minutes left. The Huskies continued to find openings in the Wildcats’ defense, but Ryckman stood tall for the remainder of the period.

Shortly before the period ended, Northern forward Griffin Loughran was dealt a five-minute major for interference that gifted the Huskies a power play that carried over into the second. However, Tech couldn’t convert in either period during the long power play, while a boarding penalty on MTU’s Brian Halonen negated part of the man advantage.

Both teams spent much of the second period killing penalties. The Wildcats weren’t able to do much when they’d get a power play, and at the other end Ryckman was able to keep the Huskies at bay. With about eight minutes left, Ryckman made a nice kick save on a shot by Logan Pietila and then deflected a shot by Broetzman after he received a cross-ice pass from Carson Bantle in front of the crease.

Potulny was clearly displeased with his team’s struggles with penalties and said that the problem needs to be fixed quickly.

“They’re still an issue,” he said. “There’s a player that didn’t play tonight because even though he didn’t get called for penalties by the officials, I thought he had two infractions. One was a slash and one was a horse collar and he didn’t play tonight. And Griff didn’t play a shift after his penalty.

“It’s got to get figured out because here’s what happened. The second period, I thought we gained all the momentum in that period. We killed a bunch of penalties, we killed a five-minute major, we killed a 5-on-3. When you kill a five-minute major, or a 5-on-3 in a game, you typically win that game. When you kill both, you probably should win that game for sure.

“But because we had a couple guys out that are penalty killers and then Griff was out as a penalty killer, you’re playing the same guys over and over for the whole period.

“And I thought our team played much better in the third period, but some of those guys you rely upon to score goals, they just didn’t have enough jump left in their step to push to that level.

“We had two of our top six defensemen out because they’re injured. We had a freshman ‘D’ playing his first game. So obviously, we had a different lineup in because of that, but those things are gonna happen.

“I liked certain areas of our game. The penalty kill last year was something that compounded our penalty issue. And this year, we’ve given up two penalty-kill goals, but I don’t think that they were breakdowns by the penalty kill, and other than that we’ve been perfect. So that’s obviously a plus.”

The most exciting part of the middle period came during a stretch of 10 seconds. After the Huskies rang a shot off the far pipe, Northern broke free down the ice on a rush and center David Keefer had a great look on net, but his shot rang off the crossbar with 5:30 left and the score stayed 1-0 in favor of MTU.

The teams started to click offensively in the third period with the Huskies striking again 4:01 in as Halonen got a pass from Arvid Caderoth and beat Ryckman blocker-side from the slot. Northern answered back about 2 1/2 minutes later. Forward Vincent de Mey collected the puck by Tech’s right post and backhanded a shot under the bar to get the Wildcats on the scoreboard.

Whatever momentum Northern got from the goal disappeared barely two minutes later when the Huskies’ Tommy Parrottino scored on a wraparound to reassert Tech’s advantage back to two goals.

The Wildcats pulled Ryckman with about 4:40 remaining to try to generate a spark, but the Northern couldn’t get anything going and were dealt another disappointing loss.

NMU will travel to Big Rapids to play Ferris State in a nonconference game on Dec. 30.

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

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