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Borrowed and blue: Northern Michigan University hockey team falls to Alabama-Huntsville, 3-1

Northern Michigan University’s Tim Erkkila, center, tries to pass the puck out of the Wildcats defensive zone as teammates Alex Frye, left, and Ben Newhouse look on during the first period of a college hockey game against Alabama-Huntsville on Tuesday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Shannon Stieg)

MARQUETTE — Normally, when a hockey team has to borrow jerseys to play a game on the road, it’s a sign of bad things to come for them.

Not the case for Alabama-Huntsville on Tuesday night.

With the Chargers sporting some jerseys having a Fox Motors Marquette-Negaunee logo on them thanks to some travel issues, they defeated Northern Michigan University 3-1 to hand goalie Rico DiMatteo his first career loss.

The outcome left Wildcats head coach Grant Potulny frustrated and highly annoyed with his team’s performance.

“You get what you earn,” he said. “We didn’t respect our opponent. We were definitely not ready to play. You get what you earn and I don’t care what the shots say, poor performance.”

Northern Michigan University's David Keefer, second from left, collects the puck in Wildcats' offensive zone as teammates A.J. Vanderbeck, second from top right, and Colby Enns, lower right, look on during the first period of a college hockey game against Alabama-Huntsville on Tuesday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. Also pictured are the Chargers' Dayne Finnson, left, and Quinn Green. (Photo courtesy Shannon Stieg)

The shots read 37-16 in favor of NMU.

“Hockey comes down to this and I’ve talked about this before,” the coach said. “There’s a puck four feet away and we both want it. We didn’t win near enough of them. Near enough.

“It’s as disappointed as I’ve been in the group the entire year because you work and you work and you work and you work and you get on a little bit of a run and you’re building momentum, and then you don’t respect the game.”

After each teams killed off penalties early on, Huntsville got on the scoreboard first thanks to a great individual effort by Tyrone Bronte. The freshman center made a nice move around a NMU defenseman, deked out DiMatteo and tucked the puck under the freshman’s pad to make it 1-0 Chargers just 4:32 into the game.

Huntsville had two more chances to pad its lead in the period, but DiMatteo came up big. With just over 10 minutes left, Ayodele Adeniye got a good shot on net during a rush, but DiMatteo made the save and stopped the rebound attempt. Late in the period with the Chargers buzzing around the Wildcats net, Lucas Bahn picked off a Northern clearing attempt and snapped a shot on net, but DiMatteo denied him.

At the other end, the Wildcats were getting some scoring chances, but none were particularly good. NMU’s best opportunity came with about 1:35 left when Ben Newhouse sent a blast from the point that Chargers goalie David Fessenden was just able to kick aside, and seconds later Wildcats center Joe Nardi tried a one-timer by the left post, but it went just wide of the pipe.

Things continued to go the Chargers’ way in the second period. After Fessenden stopped Wildcats forward A.J. Vanderbeck on a rebound, Huntsville struck again at the other end when Josh Martin scored on a rebound from the slot to make it 2-0. NMU tried to get something going offensively, but Andre Ghantous and Newhouse were stopped by Fessenden during a furious swarm just after the midway point in the period.

Later in the second, Huntsville got its third goal thanks to a smart play by forward Connor Wood. He was called for a cross check and as soon as his penalty expired, he received a pass and fired it up to Bauer Neudecker, who beat a sprawling DiMatteo.

Now behind 3-0, Northern finally got the puck past Fessenden thanks to a nice tic-tac-toe play. Nardi skated into the Chargers defensive zone and sent a cross-ice pass over to Mikey Colella, who passed to the slot to Ghantous, who fired the puck past Fessenden at 17:07 to cut the Wildcats’ deficit to 3-1 going into the third.

Northern tried desperately to fight its way back in the final period, getting many good looks and peppering Fessenden with shots, and at the same time, holding the Chargers to just two shots on goal. However, the ‘Cats couldn’t cash in.

With 16:20 left, Ghantous dropped a pass to Nardi, but Fessenden got to the post in time to keep the puck out. Vanderbeck and Griffin Loughran were also stopped a short while after that, and with the Wildcats on the power play with about 12 minutes remaining, Newhouse’s shot from the high slot was blocked and covered by Fessenden.

Northern’s best chance came in the closing minutes. With Fessenden on the bench due to an injury, the Wildcats fired two good shots on net on their power play, but one rang off the pipe and the other was knocked aside by backup goalie Derek Krall.

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

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