One more chance: 7th-place Northern Michigan University Wildcats have another chance to move up in CCHA

Northern Michigan University’s Connor Eddy, left, tries to keep the puck away from St. Thomas’s Lucas Wahlin during their CCHA game played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Jan. 20. (Photo courtesy Cara Kamps)

MARQUETTE — The good thing is that the Northern Michigan University hockey team has a bunch of teams within reach ahead of them in the CCHA standings.

The bad thing is that it is almost the entire league.

The Wildcats sit seventh in the eight-team conference with 26 points heading into the final two weekends — four games — of the regular season, but the CCHA is tight enough among the top seven teams that NMU has enough potential points left to catch even league-leading Bemidji State.

Though it’s quite doubtful that will happen, a strong finish could easily propel them up a couple positions, and with some fortunate circumstances, even gain home ice with a top-four finish in the league.

Northern is a modest 9-14-5 overall and 7-10-3 in the league, but trails sixth-place Lake Superior State by two points and fifth-place Michigan Tech by four.

Northern Michigan University’s Reilly Funk, center, tries to pass the puck to either Kristof Papp, right, or Jack Perbix, left, near the St. Thomas net during their CCHA hockey game played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Jan. 19. (Photo courtesy Cara Kamps)

Even the two teams tied for third and fourth, St. Thomas and Bowling Green State, aren’t completely out of reach with them each nine points ahead of the Wildcats.

With three points at stake in every league game, a perfect finish — not just four straight wins, but four straight wins in regulation — would allow NMU to finish the season with 38, one more point than front-running Bemidji has now.

Everybody but LSSU and this weekend’s opponent, last-place Ferris State, has four games remaining. The Lakers and Bulldogs have just three contests left after they played a single-game “series” back in mid-December and play just one game against each other next weekend.

Because Ferris has just three games left and trails NMU by nine points, the Bulldogs with 17 points can at best only hope to catch Northern, and that would only happen with a Ferris regulation-sweep this weekend against the Wildcats and the same happening to those teams the following weekend.

Tonight’s game at 7:07 p.m. and Saturday’s at 6:07 p.m. will be broadcast on radio station WUPT 100.3 FM The Point, while fans can follow on social media @NMUHockey on X, formerly Twitter, to get updates leading up to the games and 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 game notes, a preview and series history, along with live statistics, video and audio.

Ferris is 10-20-1 overall and 6-15-0 in CCHA games, having split with NMU back in the Wildcats’ opening CCHA series of the season in Marquette on Oct. 27-28. The Bulldogs prevailed 2-1 in overtime in the opener before the Wildcats bounced back for a 4-1 victory.

On that weekend, five Northern players scored a goal and eight collected points as seniors Andre Ghantous and Artem Shlaine along with sophomore defenseman Josh Zinger and freshman Kevin Marx Noren had multipoint series.

Sophomore goalie Beni Halasz made 63 saves for a 1.44 goals against average and .955 saves percentage, according to a series preview prepared by NMU Sports Information.

A couple days after that Ferris series, Zinger was named CCHA Defenseman of the Week and Halasz the CCHA Goaltender of the Week.

In their last five games dating back to the 2022-23 season, NMU has won four of them, outscoring FSU 27-10 in that span.

Ferris is currently on a four-game losing streak, having been swept by Bowling Green and Bemidji State the last two weekends and outscored 14-7. The Bulldogs’ Zach Faremouth has three goals and two assists in that span.

Overall this season, Ferris’ top three scorers are seniors, Antonio Venuto with 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points, Jason Brancheau 9-16–25 and Stepan Pokorny 8-8–16. In addition, freshman teammate Luigi Benincase in third in the CCHA for points by freshmen with 5-15–20, while sophomore Travis Shoudy is tied for second among league defensemen in points with 4-16–20.

Goalies Noah Giesbrecht, with a 4.02 goals against and .879 saves percentage, and Logan Stein, at 2.84 GAA and .913 saves, have split time in the FSU net.

Ferris’ power play is last in the CCHA at .133 (13 of 98), and is only .102 at home (5 of 49), while the penalty kill also struggles at .767 and has allowed the most power play goals at home in the league with 15.

Despite that, the Bulldogs haven’t allowed a power play goal in their past four games, killing all seven shorthanded situations, and just one power play goal in their past seven, killing 14 of 15.

The Wildcats are coming off a rare off weekend, especially this late in the season, that sets up these final two weekends. After this road trip to Big Rapids, NMU finishes at home against Bowling Green on March 1-2.

Northern’s offense begins with Ghantous and Shlaine. Ghantous, whose 18 assists lead the CCHA and 26 points is fifth. Meanwhile, Shlaine leads the Wildcats with nine goals, and adding in 13 assists, is second in points with 22. He is also tied for the team lead with six power play goals and two game-winning goals.

Zinger, with three goals and 15 assists for 18 points, brings production on the back end as he’s fourth in points among CCHA defensemen.

Halasz, whose numbers are down a bit from last season, is still solid with a 3.12 goals against average and .894 saves percentage while playing more than three-quarters of the team’s minutes. Backup Charlie Glockner’s numbers are actually quite similar with a 3.26 goals against and .885 saves percentage.

And against Ferris, Halasz has career numbers of a 4-1 record, 2.32 goals against and .918 saves percentage.

NMU is 1-1-2 in its last four games that include a shootout win and shootout loss for six of a possible 12 league points.

During that time, Marx Noren has points in each game with a goal and six assists to lead all CCHA freshman with seven points in that span. And second among league freshmen during the four-game span is teammate Michael Mesic with a goal and three assists for four points.

Northern leads the CCHA with 25 power play goals and a .231 conversion percentage in all games, which includes a power play goal in each of the last four games and a .400 conversion rate.

But the Wildcats are also last with 30 power play goals allowed and a .746 penalty kill percentage, and also have been called for the most penalties per game, 5.07, and penalty minutes, 13:17 per game, in the league.

The Wildcats lead the conference in blocked shots with 16.21 per game and are second in faceoff winning percentage at .521 and tied for second in shorthanded goals with three.

Here are some other facts about the NMU hockey team as compiled by NMU SI:

Ghantous has been nominated for the 2024 Hobey Baker Award, and fans can vote by visiting the Hobey Baker website at hobeybaker.com/awards/vote-for-hobey/.

• Ghantous leads NCAA skaters with 150 career points on 52 goals and 98 assists in 164 games played. In NMU history, he is 14th in career points, tied for 34th in goals, 12th in assists and fourth in games.

• Ghantous leads the ‘Cats in points against Ferris State with 27 points in 18 games (12-15). Michael Van Unen is next with 10 points in 16 games (3-7), followed by Shlaine (4-5) and Kristof Papp (2-7) with nine points in six games each.

• And Ghantous is riding a six-game point streak against the Bulldogs, with six goals and five assists for 11 points in that span, while Shlaine has seven points in his last five games against the Bulldogs (2-5).

• While Noren is on a four-game point streak, Ghantous and Michael Colella, each with a goal and two assists, have three-game point streaks.

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


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