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Hearts broken again: Michigan Tech tops Northern Michigan University 3-2 in overtime on Saturday

Northern Michigan University’s Alex Frye, right, and Michigan Tech’s Eric Gotz fight for the puck during the first period on Saturday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Shannon Stieg)

MARQUETTE — After getting dealt a blowout loss Friday night, the Northern Michigan University hockey team was desperately trying to keep its chances for home ice alive in the WCHA playoffs the following evening against rival Michigan Tech.

However, after a furious rally to get the game to overtime, Huskies forward Jake Crespi forced a turnover in the extra session and beat Wildcats goalie Rico DiMatteo to get a 3-2 win and break NMU’s hearts. The loss almost ensures Northern will open the postseason on the road.

Despite the loss, Northern head coach Grant Potulny was proud of his team for fighting back from a two-goal deficit in the final minutes of the third period and almost completely killing off two major penalties.

“Obviously, it’s hard to score when you get penalties,” he said. “I told the officials I thought the first one was a five(-minute major), the second was not a five. It’s hard when, I mean you’re down to four defensemen. (Defenseman) Hank (Sorensen) gets thrown out and on a slew-foot, our defenseman (Tyrell Boucher) breaks his leg. So you’re down to four ‘D’ and you’re killing a penalty, and there’s frustration building. There’s every opportunity for that thing to go south and it didn’t.

“I told the players after the game and I’ve sat there in games we’ve won and said I didn’t think we played very well. (Saturday night) to me, I don’t care what the scoreboard says, the effort that we got out of everybody was incredible. The four defensemen, could you imagine playing every other shift for a period and a half? It’s not even feasible.

“After killing all those penalties, your top guys kill penalties, so you think that probably you’re going to be out of gas and they still found a way to tie it.

“Nice to see Rylan (Van Unen) get his first goal. There’s a lot of positives tonight, a lot. I’m very, very pleased with how we played. Now I’m disappointed with the outcome just like everybody else, but that was a great effort.”

The Wildcats controlled the first period offensively as they outshot Tech 12-2, but were unable to get the puck past Huskies goalie Blake Pietila. Alex Frye, Garrett Klee and Van Unen had decent looks at the net early, but Pietila stood tall.

The best opportunity for both teams came with about 14:25 left when Tech’s Brian Halonen got the puck on a partial breakaway, but his shot was stopped by DiMatteo.

Northern’s best scoring chance came with just over six minutes remaining as Vincent de Mey’s shot was saved by Pietila, but the rebound kicked out wide to Ben Newhouse. The senior defenseman sent a good attempt at the net, but Pietila swung around to make the save to keep it scoreless.

The second period was a tough one to take for the Wildcats. After Pietila barely kept a shot from Rylan Van Unen out of the net with 17 minutes left and Andre Ghantous was just wide on a one-timer a minute later, Tech was given a five-minute power play as Sorensen was handed a major for checking from behind and a game misconduct. NMU was on the verge of killing it off, but the Huskies’ Tommy Parrottino snuck a long shot just past DiMatteo to make it 1-0 Tech.

Before the goal, Boucher was hit with a cheap shot by a Tech player and had to be helped off the ice, but the referees didn’t call a penalty.

With about 2:45 left in the period, Northern got its best scoring chances as Tim Erkkila’s shot rang off the pipe, and seconds later Joe Nardi and Ghantous both had opportunities to tap the puck past a prone Pietila, but he kept it out.

With six seconds left, Wildcats forward Mikey Colella was handed a five-minute major for boarding and that carried over into the third. After DiMatteo made two impressive saves, Colin Swoyer tapped in a rebound at the 4:01 mark to make it 2-0 Huskies. With time starting to run out, the Wildcats finally got the puck past Pietila as Van Unen slid in his brother Mike Van Unen’s rebound to cut the deficit to 2-1 with 5:34 left. Then with 59 seconds left and DiMatteo pulled for an extra skater, Ghantous tied it up on a rebound to force overtime.

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

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