Unusual home weekend: Northern Michigan University Wildcats hockey team hosts U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 squad, Notre Dame

Teammates who were on the ice at the time celebrate the first goal of the game scored by Northern Michigan University's AJ Vanderbeck, front right, in a CCHA game played against St. Thomas at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Saturday. Among them are Alex Frye, front left.(Journal photo by Travis Nelson)

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University hockey team is in the midst of a three-weekend homestand to open the regular season, but this weekend’s setup is a bit unusual.

Instead of two games against the same visiting team, the Wildcats will play an exhibition game against the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 team on Friday.

Then they host Notre Dame for a game that counts, though it is nonconference, on Saturday. Each game has an official starting time of 6:37 p.m., as will nearly every other home game this season.

This is the 10th time NMU has played the USNTDP U-18 team, with Northern holding a 7-1-1 edge against the U.S. Hockey League program, according to a report from NMU Sports Information.

They last met in 2019 in the Detroit suburb of Plymouth before the regular season began, with the Wildcats winning 4-3 that included a goal by current NMU player Andre Ghantous, his first with the team.

Northern Michigan University head hockey coach Grant Potulny walks across the ice after the Wildcats' CCHA game against St. Thomas played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Saturday. (Journal photo by Travis Nelson)

The national team was founded in 1996, as stated in their mission, “to prepare student-athletes under the age of 18 for participation on the U.S. National Teams and success in their future hockey careers.”

After the program relocated to Ann Arbor in 2015, the team competes as a member of the USHL with USA Hockey Arena serving as home ice.

Notre Dame leads the all-time series against NMU by a narrow 25-21-8 margin, including a 11-9-4 edge in Marquette. They most recently met in 2019 when Northern traveled to South Bend, Indiana, for a midweek game with the Fighting Irish prevailing 2-1 in overtime.

The last time they met in Marquette was in October 2012, the final season of the original CCHA.

Saturday’s game is their second-ever meeting as nonconference foes.

Teammates hug and jump on Northern Michigan University's Connor Marritt, hidden at center, after the Wildcats' sophomore forward scored his first collegiate goal in a CCHA game played against St. Thomas at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Saturday. (Journal photo by Travis Nelson)

Last weekend, the Wildcats were also at home and swept NCAA Division I newcomer University of St. Thomas 4-1 on Friday and 8-3 on Saturday.

Seven players accounted for the dozen Northern goals, five scoring twice.

The first goal of the new CCHA era was scored by Mikey Colella on Friday, who also netted an empty-netter that night.

Rylan Van Unen scored once each game, doubling his goal total from his rookie campaign, while David Keefer also had two goals.

On Saturday, the team’s returning leading scorer, AJ Vanderbeck, got his first two goals of the season on Saturday and was joined by linemate Hank Crone with his first two goals for NMU. Crone finished with two assists for a four-point weekend, as did Hampus Eriksson with his four assists.

And returning cocaptain Joseph Nardi got his 100th career point with an assist on Colella’s opening goal on Friday, his 150th as a Wildcat. Nardi shares the captaincy with defenseman Ben Newhouse.

Sophomore netminder Rico DiMatteo picked up his first two wins this season, improving his overall record to 9-6-1 and a .908 save percentage. He stopped 35 of 39 shots he faced.

This could be an improved offensive season for the Wildcats as they return more than 83 percent of their scoring from last winter — 68 of 79 goals — including the top four goal scorers in Vanderbeck, Nardi, Ghantous and Vincent de Mey.

Head coach Grant Potulny has started his fifth season at Northern, compiling a 75-64-11 record coming into this year

, including a pair of 20-win seasons.

Last season, the Wildcats made their third WCHA playoff semifinal in four years as well as their second appearance in the tournament championship game.

NMU reminds fans that they need to wear masks, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, at all inside venues including athletic facilities. The only exception is when actively eating or drinking.

Fans can follow the hockey Wildcats and other NMU teams on social media at twitter.com/NMU_Wildcats and twitter.com/NMUHockey.

This weekend’s game will be broadcast on radio station WUPT 100.3 FM The Point or online at www.rrnsports.com. Video is available at www.flohockey.tv/.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.


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