Northern Michigan University hockey team hopes home ice helps net 1st win

Northern Michigan University’s Andre Ghantous, left, takes a shot from the slot as Ferris State’s Nick Nardecchia defends the play during a game from the 2022-23 season at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Photo courtesy MU)

MARQUETTE — Fans can see — or at least hear — for themselves this weekend if home cooking is what will help the Northern Michigan University hockey team right its ship.

The Wildcats enter their home-opening weekend with an 0-3-1 record after playing at a pair of nationally ranked teams to open the season. NMU itself was a team that received national polling votes before the season started.

Despite a pair of players earning CCHA-wide and national recognition, Northern has struggled in the win-loss column with the most glaring culprit being a 5.25 goals-per-game allowed at Minnesota-Duluth and at Arizona State the past two weekends.

And much of that leaky defense can be attributed to both a struggling penalty kill and the fact that there’s been lots of penalties to kill.

The Wildcats are allowing power play goals at a startling 44% rate — 11 of 25 — and have given up at least a hat-trick’s worth of man-disadvantage goals in three of their four games.

Northern Michigan University’s Andre Ghantous, center, skates up ice with the puck as teammate Colby Enns, right, follows and Minnesota-Duluth’s Aaron Pionk defends during their weekend series in Duluth, Minn., earlier this month.(Photo courtesy NMU)

That’s somewhat canceled out the sensational starts to the season by several players, especially redshirt freshman forward Tanner Latsch, who leads NCAA Division I in two scoring statistics, seven overall and six power play goals. He’s also won three CCHA player of the week awards in the Wildcats’ first two weeks, twice taking Rookie of the Week and also getting Forward of the Week on opening weekend.

And sophomore defenseman Josh Zinger has six assists and six points, nationally tied for second and tied for fifth, respectively, among defensemen. A Preseason CCHA First Teamer, he’s also won a CCHA weekly award, Defenseman of the Week, after the Duluth series.

Then there’s team captain and graduate student Andre Ghantous, who like Latsch, had a six-point weekend at UMD with two goals and four assists then. With seven points altogether, he tied for 15th nationally in that stat as he joined Zinger as a Preseason CCHA First Team honoree.

NMU comes home to its renovated Berry Events Center, where $6.5 million was spent mostly on a new refrigeration system for the ice along with the rink reduced from the Olympic width of 100 feet to a more typical hockey rink that is 94 feet wide.

It’s part of athletic facility renovations that include the Vandament Arena being enlarged for more spectator seating so that it can host basketball games instead of just volleyball, moving Wildcat men’s and women’s hoops games out of the Berry.

The Wildcats host CCHA foe Ferris State at 7:07 p.m. Friday and 6:07 p.m. Saturday after the Bulldogs lost 6-4 and tied 3-3 in a home-and-home series vs. Western Michigan two weekends ago. FSU (1-2-1) also opened the season with a 5-4 win and 5-2 loss at home to Miami (Ohio) while winning a 9-0 exhibition game against the Grand Valley State club team last Friday.

Both games will be broadcast on radio station WUPT 100.3 FM The Point, while fans can follow @NMUHockey on X (formerly Twitter) to get updates throughout the week leading up to the games for live updates while the ‘Cats are on the ice.

Or visit the NMU athletics website at nmuwildcats.com and look under the hockey schedule for links to purchase tickets online and for game notes, live statistics, live video and live audio.

While the Wildcats were chosen second in the CCHA preseason coaches poll, receiving two first-place votes, the Bulldogs were predicted a more modest seventh in the eight-team league.

Northern head coach Grant Potulny is at the point where he is most worried about getting the Wildcats’ game in order.

“We’re in a position right now that I am focusing on us this week,” the seventh-year Wildcats coach said in an NMU Sports Information release previewing the series. “Will we worry about Ferris? Yes. But what I think the bulk of what this week has to be is getting our game right.”

Latsch is also tied for eighth in the nation with eight points and scores on an amazing 53.8% of his shots, tops among skaters with at least 10 shots this season, according to stats provided by NMU SI.

In addition, Aiden Gallacher is tied for 11th in the nation with 12 blocked shots, while the NMU team’s 13 goals are seventh nationally among teams with at least three games played, their 53.7% faceoff percentage is ninth and eight power play goals are third and a power play percentage of 30.8% is fifth.

In his career, Ghantous has 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points in 16 games vs. Ferris, also owning a plus-12 rating with five power play goals and a game-winning goal vs. the Bulldogs.

Teammates Kristof Papp has eight points including four goals and Artem Shlaine seven points with a goal in four games each vs. FSU.

Latsch, who hadn’t played a collegiate game before this fall, and Zinger each have four-game point streaks; in fact, Latsch has a four-game goal streak, too.

Likely NMU starting goalie Beni Halasz is 3-0 in four games vs. Ferris, all last year, with an .891 saves percentage and 3.81 goals-against average. Charlie Glockner has two games vs. the Bulldogs and is 1-1 with a .927 saves percentage and 2.04 GAA.

Since the 2019-20 season, NMU is 14-2 vs. Ferris and outscoring the Bulldogs 87-53, scoring at a 23.8% clip on the power play with a 78.6% success rate killing penalties. That includes last season, when Northern went 3-1 with a 39.1% success rate on the power play — 9 of 23 — and 87.0% on the penalty kill — 20 of 23.

Ferris, meanwhile, is led in scoring by sophomore defenseman Travis Shoudy with five points, all assists, and a four-game point streak. Senior forwards Antonio Venuto and Jason Brancheau have three and two goals, respectively.

Noah Giesbrecht has most of the minutes in the FSU goal and has a 4.97 GAA and .861 saves percentage.

Like NMU, Ferris’ penalty kill is lukewarm at best at 64.3% on 9 of 14, but its power play is anemic at 18.8%, 3 of 16. And the Bulldogs have more goals in the third period, seven, than in the first and second periods combined, six.

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


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today