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Get back on track: Northern Michigan University hockey team looks to end losing skid at high-flying Bowling Green this weekend

Northern Michigan University forward David Keefer, right, and Lake Superior State’s Jacob Bengtsson chase the puck in front of the Wildcats bench during the first period on Friday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Shannon Stieg)

“We need to worry about us before we start worrying about our opponent.” — Grant Potulny, NMU head hockey coach,

on the Wildcats’ recent struggles

——————

MARQUETTE — The last four hockey games have shown plenty of troubles for Northern Michigan University.

The Wildcats (2-6, 0-2 WCHA) have lost four straight and blew a two-goal lead against now-No. 19 Lake Superior State at home Saturday in an overtime loss. This week they travel for a nonconference series to No. 7/No. 8 Bowling Green State (12-2, 3-1), which is having a very good season.

Looking back on the loss to the Lakers Saturday, NMU head coach Grant Potulny said it came down to penalties as the ‘Cats had to kill off a five-minute major on Grant Loven that sucked away whatever momentum they had.

Northern Michigan University forward Alex Frye, center, looks for an opening as Lake Superior State's Jacob Nordqvist, left, and Will Riedell defend during the first period on Friday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Shannon Stieg)

Later in the third period, Northern gave up a shorthanded goal, then followed it by allowing a power play tally in the extra session that ended the game.

“When you’re going through the game live, like I said, there’s nobody I didn’t want to play, which is a rarity for any team,” Potulny said. “Usually there’s a guy or two that you’re not real excited about. I didn’t feel that way once.

“The five-minute major, even though we killed it, it kind of just changed the outlook for us on how we were attacking the game. And all of a sudden, we’re in a defensive retreating position because you’re trying to kill those penalties, and now you’re playing your top guys way too much and it just kind of bled into the third period.

“You know to be honest … we weren’t generating anything offensively, but I didn’t feel like, I mean they had 16 shots, but I don’t know how many of them were legitimate scoring chances. But it stopped us from doing the things we were doing and we have to be a little bit tougher mentally to be able to get through that. But it’s a theme.

“I do think that for whatever reason, there’s more penalties called in our league. Going through the video, some of them were for-sure penalties. Some of them I do have an issue with. I don’t necessarily know that had the officials been able to see that call after they called it that they would necessarily be pleased with the call that they made on a couple of them. And that goes … both ways. Not just against us, I think both ways.”

When asked if Loven would suit up against the high-powered Falcons, Potulny said he wasn’t sure yet as he doesn’t want to bench players for mistakes, but also wants to make sure that penalties like that aren’t just routine.

“Here’s the thing,” he said. “You know like, when good people make a mistake, you can work through it. I thought he was playing hard. I thought he was doing the things that he needs to do for his own game to have success.

“You don’t want to banish players to an island because then they make mistakes or take a penalty or whatever. So I don’t know that yet. It’s not a situation where it’s like ‘You did this so you’re banished.’ But there’s got to be some accountability for it for sure.”

What Potulny does know is goalie Nolan Kent will not be in the lineup after starting the past three games and having an overall solid night Saturday against the Lakers. That means Connor Ryckman, and potentially John Hawthorne, will be this weekend’s netminders.

“He’s (Kent) going to be unavailable,” Potulny said. “After the game on Saturday, he’s got an MRI this week, so he’s unavailable. We had another defenseman that’s gonna be unavailable. That’s the other thing and I haven’t talked about … much, but two of your top four ‘D’ are out. Two of your top six forwards and now, you lose another D and now, you lose a goalie.

“It’s incredible. The way last year finished with injuries and the way it is right now, I’m glad we have the amount of players we have because we don’t have the problem we had last year. And this is going to give Connor a chance to get back in the net and it’s going to give a couple other guys a chance to be able to play.

“I actually told a player yesterday, he’s probably so young he probably didn’t know this, the Tom Brady-Drew Bledsoe (situation with the New England Patriots in 2001). Drew Bledsoe’s one of the top quarterbacks in the league. He’s out and Tom Brady takes over. (The Patriots are) playing great. Drew Bledsoe gets cleared to play at the end of the year and they played Tom Brady. Tom took advantage of his opportunity. We’re going to have some guys get some opportunities. So hopefully they can take advantage of them.”

This is also an opportunity for the Wildcats as a whole to get back on track. The rest of the games after this weekend are all WCHA games, so if they want to get a spark before the games truly start to count, it’s against BGSU.

Speaking of the Falcons, Potulny is aware of how good they are, but he also wants his squad to figure out its own issues before focusing on its opponent.

“We’ve had some epic games with them,” he said of the Falcons. “It’s become a rivalry for us. They’re obviously playing great, but again, it’s something that for us, we need to worry about us before we start worrying about our opponent.”

The puck drops in Bowling Green, Ohio, at 7:07 p.m. both Friday and Saturday.

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

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