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Up, down, all around: Northern Michigan University hockey team’s shootout win followed by blowout loss

Northern Michigan University goalie Rico DiMatteo, left, pokes a rebound away as teammates Ben Newhouse, second from right, and Tyrell Boucher, center, try to block out Bowling Green State's Connor Ford, second from left, and Evan Dougherty during the first period of their WCHA game on Saturday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Shannon Stieg)

“I think that’s as exciting of a game I’ve ever been part of regardless that there was no goals scored.” — Grant Potulny, NMU head hockey coach, on Saturday’s opening 0-0 tie vs. Bowling Green State

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MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University hockey team experienced some considerable highs and lows over the weekend.

On Saturday, the Wildcats played Bowling Green State to a scoreless tie, but prevailed in a shootout to get the extra point in the WCHA standings.

Then an awful third period Sunday doomed them as the Falcons blew them out 6-2.

To say that Saturday’s game was fun to watch would actually be an understatement as the two teams went back and forth throughout, while impressive goaltending was on display by both netminders.

After being tied 0-0 through overtime, the game went to a shootout, which was a first for the Wildcats this season. In the sixth round, they came out on top.

“It was probably the most entertaining 0-0 game that for surely I’ve ever seen,” NMU head coach Grant Potulny said in the postgame Zoom press conference. “I thought both teams played very well. I thought both teams played very hard.

“I mean, there’s breakaways. One of their best players had a breakaway, one of our best players had a breakaway. Multiple chances at each end.

“Incredible goaltending performances both ways, but as a game goes, I think that’s as exciting of a game I’ve ever been part of regardless that there was no goals scored.”

Brandon Schultz picked up the game winner in the shootout as he waited for BG goalie Eric Dop to bite on his deke and then reached across the crease to tap the puck into the open net. Schultz said his confidence in the move is what made him try it.

“I just saw the guys that went before me shooting and he was saving them,” he said. “I’ve done that move for awhile, practiced it a lot, so I have confidence in that move even though it looks maybe a little crazy, but (I’ve done) it quite often in practice for a long time, multiple years.

“I just feel comfortable doing it. So I decided to do that instead of going down and trying to pick a corner or shooting five-hole.”

The first period was as even as the score with both goalies making big saves. The Wildcats’ Rico DiMatteo stopped Vegas Golden Knights prospect Brandon Kruse by the left post on a rush and later stopped Cameron Wright on the same penalty kill just past the midpoint of the period.

At the other end, Dop played just as well as DiMatteo. He stopped Andre Ghantous and Hank Sorensen while BG was trying to kill off a tripping call with 14 minutes left, then made his best stop of the period while the Falcons were on the power play. With about four minutes left, Northern center Joe Nardi blocked a shot near the Wildcats blue line, which created a loose puck that was corralled by Ghantous. The sophomore raced up ice on a partial breakaway, but his shot was blocked by Dop at the left post.

It was more of the same in the second period with each squad shutting down the other defensively and limiting any good looks at the net. The Wildcats’ best scoring chance came with just over eight minutes left when Griffin Loughran skated up the middle on a partial breakaway, but a Falcons forward caught up as Loughran was making a move and got his stick on the puck just enough for Dop to save it.

The third period had a little more offense with NMU forward Mikey Colella earning the majority of the scoring chances as he was stopped three times by Dop. In the Wildcats defensive zone, DiMatteo made some key saves on Seth Fyten with 14:20 remaining and again with 3:30 left when the forward got the puck off a turnover.

Potulny credited DiMatteo’s “mentality” for his success, including denying every Falcons shootout attempt.

“He’s very even-keeled,” Potulny said. “He’s kind of ‘next shot, next save.’ Even (Saturday) morning, he had to tweak a couple things because he just didn’t like how he was seeing the puck in the morning. Most guys, it’s probably challenging to make an adjustment like that, especially at that age and come into a game and play the way he played. Obviously a lot of it has to do with his ability. There’s no doubt on that. That’s the No. 1 driver. But I do think his demeanor really is impressive.”

In overtime, it appeared that Loughran scored as he tapped his own rebound into an open net. However, the referees waved off the goal and instead assessed a penalty to Ghantous. The Wildcats killed it off, though, setting the stage for the exciting shootout.

On Sunday, the Wildcats started off strong, putting pressure on Dop early and with 10:39 remaining in the first period, defenseman Colby Enns got a pass from David Keefer and flung it past Dop from the high slot to make it 1-0.

As the period wore on, though, the Falcons started to find some openings and tied it up on a lucky break with 2:13 remaining when Seth Fyten deflected a shot past DiMatteo. A little more than a minute later, BG struck again as Taylor Schneider beat DiMatteo high blocker-side to give the Falcons a 2-1 advantage at the break.

NMU tied it with 16:07 remaining in the second thanks to a great individual effort from Ghantous to set it up. He skated around the back of the Falcons net twice before passing the puck to Nardi in the crease, who then tapped it past Dop to make it 2-2. The Wildcats almost took the lead a few seconds later as Ben Newhouse sent a shot from the point that almost got by Dop.

Instead, BG took the lead at the 6:40 mark when Will Cullen scored during a scrum in front of the Wildcats net. The Falcons kept the puck in the Northern defensive zone during most of the period with NMU’s only decent opportunity coming with 1:37 left when Loughran almost tapped a shot past Dop, who scrambled to cover it in time.

Things fell apart for the Wildcats in the third period. While on the power play, a turnover led to a breakaway for BG’s Connor Ford, who beat DiMatteo low to make it 4-2. Shortly after that, Evan Dougherty pushed the Falcons’ advantage to 5-2 and DiMatteo was pulled for backup John Hawthorne. He didn’t do much better as Schneider tucked a shot inside the right post with BG on a five-minute power play thanks to a major penalty on Sorensen.

Northern closes out its regular season this weekend with a home-and-home series against Michigan Tech. The Wildcats travel to Houghton at 7 p.m. Friday before the Huskies return the favor in Marquette at 6 p.m. Saturday. Both games will be telecast by Fox-U.P.

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

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