Need a kick start? Northern Michigan University Wildcats hockey team could start moving up with wins vs. Michigan Tech this weekend
MARQUETTE — This could be the perfect time for the Northern Michigan University hockey team to face its biggest rival.
NMU plays its traditional home-and-home series against Michigan Tech this weekend, with the opener at 7:07 p.m. Friday at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton before the teams head south and east for a game at 6:07 p.m. Saturday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.
Both games will be broadcast by Northern’s home radio station, WUPT 100.3 FM The Point, with Friday’s game also scheduled to be televised on Fox-U.P. and Saturday’s on WLUC-TV6.
The intensity of this rivalry might be enough to shake up the Wildcats, who have chalked up a split in five of their past six CCHA series, the exception being when they were swept by Minnesota State-Mankato at the start of this month.
That streak extends back to mid-November.
Not too surprisingly, the alternating wins and losses have left Northern with a pair of .500 records, 12-12-0 overall and 8-8 in the CCHA.
And while that doesn’t sound so bad, NMU is stuck in sixth place in the eight-team league with 21 points, tied with second-year NCAA Division I school St. Thomas and seven points behind Bemidji State for the fourth and final home playoff spot in the first round of the postseason league tournament.
Meanwhile, the Huskies are 16-7-4 overall and 9-5-4 in CCHA games, good for 32 points and third place, 11 points ahead of Northern and just five points in back of conference leader Bowling Green State.
One thing working in the Wildcats’ favor is that they’ve played only 16 league games, the same number as Bemidji and fifth-place Ferris State, while second-place Minnesota State-Mankato, Tech, St. Thomas and last-place Lake Superior State have all played 18 games.
And Bowling Green’s played 20, but that probably doesn’t make much difference to the Wildcats as they trail the Falcons by 16 points.
Unless they can translate all four extra games into wins, which if they happen in regulation would add another dozen points to their total with the 3-2-1-0 point system the CCHA uses — three for a regulation win, two for an overtime or shootout win, one for an OT or shootout loss and zero for a regulation loss.
But the ‘Cats will have to get on a hot streak, and fast, if they even want a real chance at moving up.
Last weekend was another split at Bemidji State, and it was a scramble just to get that after NMU fell into a big hole early in the series’ first eight minutes.
Playing at home, Bemidji State scored three times in a 54-second span Friday before the first period was halfway over. It prompted a goaltending change from usually reliable Beni Halasz to Charlie Glockner, but the damage was done.
NMU finished with its fewest shots on goal this season, 18, and the Beavers won 4-0 as Glockner stopped 24 of the 25 shots he later saw.
Northern rebounded quite well the following night, jumping out to its own 4-0 lead en route to a 5-2 victory. Halasz got back in front of the NMU net and stopped 35 shots, while Northern’s Aiden Gallacher, a junior transfer coming into this season from Michigan State, scored his first two goals as a Wildcat.
They were also only his second and third goals in 3 1/2 years of playing college hockey as he scored once in two seasons with the Spartans.
His second goal Saturday was particularly important as Bemidji had pulled within 4-1 a few minutes earlier and created a two-man advantage by pulling its goalie after NMU’s Andre Ghantous was whistled for a penalty with just over two minutes to go.
Gallacher thwarted that strategy immediately, taking the puck five seconds into the shorthanded situation and firing it down ice about a hundred feet and into an empty net.
Teammates AJ Vanderbeck, one of the country’s top scorers, and Artem Shlaine each had a goal and an assist in the game.
The Huskies, meanwhile, are coming off a four-point weekend — a win and shootout loss — at Ferris State last weekend, according to a series preview provided by NMU Sports Information. Tech senior Blake Pietila earned CCHA Goalie of the Week honors for a 1-0 shutout win and 3-3 tie, stopping 48 of 51 shots and improving his record to 15-7-3 with a 2.06 goals against average and .925 saves percentage in 25 games this season.
He, along with Northern’s Vanderbeck and Ghantous, were revealed this week as Hobey Baker Award nominees.
Junior Ryland Mosley leads MTU in all three scoring categories with 10 goals, 15 assists and 25 points. It includes three shorthanded tallies and four game winners.
When these teams played last, each won at home — NMU got a 4-3 OT win on Dec. 2 and Tech a 3-1 triumph on Dec. 3.
In 11 games vs. the Huskies, Northern’s David Keefer has three goals and seven assists for 10 points, while teammate Alex Frye has four points in this season’s games, his lone goal his only OT winner and only shorthanded goal as a Wildcat in the dramatic comeback win in that series’ opener in Marquette.
Nationally, Vanderbeck and Tech’s Mosley are tied for first in NCAA Division I with three shorthanded goals, as Vanderbeck also leads the nation in shots with 107, according to NMU SI.
Other Wildcat national rankings include Vanderbeck and Keefer tied for ninth in game-winning goals with three, while Vanderbeck is tied for 15th in points with 27, Ghantous tied for 17th in assists with 18 and Vanderbeck and Keefer tied for 21st in goals with 12.
Team-wise, NMU is third nationally in faceoff win percentage at .550, tied for fifth in shorthanded goals with five, ninth in power play goals with 24, tied for 13th in power play percentage at .238, tied for 15th in shooting percentage at 10.7% and tied for 23rd in total goals with 72.
Vanderbeck and Ghantous have also been hot lately, each recording 10 points in their past 10 games, Vanderbeck with four goals and Ghantous two. The Wildcats are 10-2 this season when both record a point.
Keefer has five goals in his last 10 games, while Kristof Papp has four goals in his past half-dozen contests.
Statistically this season, Northern is 5-0 when leading after one period and 6-0 when leading after two, while the team is 5-1 in one-goal games, according to NMU SI. When scoring first, Northern is 8-5 while when the opponent scores first, the Wildcats are 4-7.
Additionally, they are 11-3 when scoring at least three goals and 1-9 when they get two or fewer, while they are 12-5 when four or more skaters record at least one point.
Fans can follow these Wildcats @NMUHockey on Twitter to get updates throughout the week leading up to games and for live updates while the ‘Cats are on the ice.
Also check the NMU athletics website, nmuwildcats.com, under the hockey team schedule for live statistics and video from this weekend’s games.
After this weekend, Northern has four more regular-season series, the next one a home pair of games against basement-dweller Lake State on Feb. 3-4.
Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.