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Northern Michigan University Wildcats hockey team collapses late in 3-2 overtime loss to Lake Superior State

Northern Michigan University forward David Keefer, center, battles for the puck with Lake Superior State’s Mitchell Oliver, left, and Ashton Calder in the Lakers’ defensive zone during the first period at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Saturday. (Photo courtesy Shannon Stieg)

MARQUETTE — It’s been said before, but penalties have plagued the Northern Michigan University hockey team this season.

On Saturday, the Wildcats were burned again.

NMU held a two-goal lead going into the third period, but gave up the tying goal to Lake Superior State in the final three minutes.

Then the Wildcats’ Brandon Schultz was called for an interference penalty in the closing seconds of regulation that led to the game-winning tally by the Lakers’ Louis Boudon during the opening minute of overtime.

LSSU won 3-2 and swept the nonconference series.

Wildcats head coach Grant Potulny was understandably upset by the penalties as they led to his team dropping its fourth straight game, all at home.

“We were on the penalty kill for seven minutes in the third period,” he said. “We had to kill eight penalties. So the same guys are playing and the same guys are not playing because they’re not on the power play.

“The interference penalty in the middle of the neutral zone with 14 seconds left on the clock, it’s a penalty. The five-minute major is a five-minute major.

“I’m distraught, I’m heartbroken for 95 percent of the guys, (they) played so hard and so well for so long.”

After Friday night’s 4-1 loss, Potulny said he wanted to make his team be comfortable playing uncomfortable. When asked if he felt the team was getting better in that area, Potulny said yes, but then they were hurt by penalties.

“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “We’re going to be uncomfortable for the rest of the season. It’s a work in progress.

“Here’s the thing. Once you start playing that way, you just play that way. You just get comfortable doing it and in the game tonight, we did for two periods. And then we take a 5(-minute major). And then we take a penalty at the end of the game before overtime.”

Unlike the previous four games, NMU came out of the gates strong on Saturday night, putting pressure on Lakers goalie Mareks Mitens and keeping LSSU out of the Wildcats’ defensive zone.

At the 7:43 mark, Northern found the back of the net as David Keefer got the puck at the Lakers’ blue line and sent a long pass to a streaking Ty Readman. After getting the puck in the slot, Readman deked out Mitens and beat him to the right post to get the Wildcats on the scoreboard.

Northern had an opportunity to pad their advantage to two goals three times near the midway point of the period with a 5-on-3 power play. However, A.J. Vanderbeck was stopped twice by Mitens and Vincent de Mey’s shot from the point was saved as well.

At the other end of the ice, Wildcats goalie Nolan Kent was sharp. He stopped Lakers forward Pete Veillette on an offensive rush with 6:55 left, and with LSSU on the power play, he made another save on Lukas Kaelble.

Right after killing off the penalty, NMU had a scoring chance as Keefer’s long shot from the blue line was saved by Mitens, but he gave up a juicy rebound in the slot for Wildcats center Joe Nardi. However, the netminder recovered just in time to stop Joe Nardi at the right post to keep it 1-0.

Then the Wildcats cashed in on their first scoring opportunity in the second period. While on the power play, Nardi waited by the left circle and sent a shot on net that deflected off Alex Frye and past Mitens’ blocker to put NMU up 2-0.

About midway through the period, Northern had another chance, again on the power play. However, Vanderbeck was stuffed three times by Mitens and the score stayed 2-0.

With 1:32 left in the second, Wildcats forward Grant Loven was handed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind. The penalty carried over into the third, but the Wildcats played lockdown defense. Kent stopped shots by Jack Jeffers and Lukas Kaelble, while his teammates blocked four shots, something Potulny said Friday they had been working on during practice.

After that, things started to go south for Northern. With the Lakers trying to kill off a bench minor, Pete Veillette got the puck off a faceoff in the NMU zone and picked up a shorthanded tally to cut the deficit to 2-1 at 7:33. LSSU kept putting pressure on Kent for the remainder of the period and with less than three minutes to go, Veillette struck again as his shot deflected off NMU defenseman Tim Erkkila and into the net to tie it 2-2, forcing the game into OT where the Wildcats fell short.

“There’s a whole lot of positives, but you’ve gotta finish the game,” Potulny said. “There’s no such thing as a moral victory.

“Was there some progress made? Yes. But that’s not good enough. It’s just not. And we’ve got to keep pushing.”

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

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