Chip and a chance: Northern Michigan University Wildcats hockey team needs sweep, help to get home ice in CCHA tournament quarterfinals

Northern Michigan University’s Grant Slukynsky, front left center, celebrates scoring the first goal of the game in the second period of a CCHA game played against Bemidji State on Feb. 10 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Cara Kamps)

MARQUETTE — They say in poker that with a chip and a chair you have a chance.

It might not be a great chance, but that’s similar to what the Northern Michigan University hockey team faces this weekend, the final weekend of the regular season.

The Wildcats must sweep — and do it in regulation both games — visiting Bowling Green State to have any chance at home ice in the first round of the upcoming CCHA playoffs.

NMU, 10-14-6 overall and 8-10-4 in league games, would improve from 30 to 36 points, while the Falcons would remain stuck at 35. If Northern even misses out on one point with a regulation win and an overtime victory, not only would the Wildcats only be at 35 points, but BGSU would pick up a point and be at 36.

That’s because while regulation wins are worth three points, OT or shootout wins are only worth two with the OT or shootout loser getting one point.

Northern Michigan University’s Rylan Van Unen, center, looks around during the play after he passed the puck in a CCHA hockey game played against Ferris State at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on the weekend of Oct. 27-28. (Photo courtesy NMU)

With NMU in seventh place, they need to leapfrog — or at least pull even — with three teams in the league this weekend to get one of the four home-ice spots in the CCHA quarterfinals, which are best-of-three series held at campus sites next weekend.

The double-regulation sweep would vault NMU past fifth-place Bowling Green and would insure that Northern would also bypass sixth-place Lake Superior State, which is playing an unusual single-game “series” this weekend and at best can only earn three points. That would improve LSSU from 31 to 34, still short of the Wildcats’ hoped-for 36 points.

Finally, there are two more teams ahead of NMU by six points — Michigan Tech and St. Thomas tied for third and fourth places.

Luckily for the Wildcats, they are playing each other in Houghton this weekend, but because of tiebreakers, Northern can only bypass MTU if the Huskies are swept at home, according to a weekend preview provided by NMU Sports Information.

Game times are 7:07 p.m. today and 6:07 p.m. Saturday at the Berry Events Center. Saturday’s game will be Senior Night as NMU will honor eight of them before the opening faceoff — Artem Shlaine, Kristof Papp, Michael Colella, Rylan Van Unen, Mitch Deelstra, Aiden Gallacher, Colby Enns and Tyrell Boucher.

Northern set itself up for these tournament scenarios by taking four of six points at last-place Ferris State last weekend, winning 3-2 in regulation and losing in the shootout after the team played to a 1-1 overtime tie.

Until Saturday’s defensive scrum, NMU’s special teams had been exceptionally productive, scoring at least one power play goal in six straight games, a total of eight in 22 chances for a 36.4% success rate.

During that time period in NCAA Division I, Northern’s power play percentage was third and total PPG’s fifth, the top four being Eastern schools with between 27 and 49 chances.

Fifth-year senior and Hobey Baker Award nominee Andre Ghantous continues to lead the Wildcats with eight goals and 20 assists for 28 points. He also leads the CCHA in assists and is third in points following two assists recorded at Ferris. That also gives him five points in his last four games.

Defenseman Josh Zinger, who played center on Saturday due to the absence of Shlaine, is fourth in points among CCHA blueliners with 19 (3-16), and focusing even further, Zinger is second among sophomore defensemen, behind only Travis Shoudy of Ferris State, with two more points in three more games played.

The ‘Cats have gotten help scoring from new faces as well, as freshman Kevin Marx Noren leads all ‘Cats in points the previous six games with eight (1-7–8). For the season, Marx Noren’s 13 assists are fifth and his 17 points are sixth among CCHA freshmen.

The ‘Cats have been one of the better teams when on home ice in the CCHA this season, holding an 8-4-2 record. At home the ‘Cats average 3.0 goals per game and allow 2.4, those numbers being fourth and second, respectively. The ‘Cats 13 power play goals and 25.0 power play percentage are both second, along with their penalty kill clicking at 85.1%. NMU currently holds a five-game power play goal streak at home, scoring seven in that time.

CCHA fifth-place Bowling Green is looking for a home playoff berth itself, only trailing Tech and St. Thomas by one point and needing to catch or at least tie one of them to move into fourth.

The Falcons had gone 6-1-1 over four weeks before being blown out last weekend at MTU 7-0 and 3-1.

Junior forward Ryan O’Hara leads BGSU in goals and points (8-10–18), but has missed the last six games. Next is Spencer Kersten (8-7–15) and Josh Nodler (5-10–15). As of late, senior Seth Fyten has been leading the way, as he has five goals and nine points in the Falcons past 10 games.

Freshman goaltender Cole Moore and junior Christian Stoever have both seen action, but it’s been Moore who has seemingly taken the reins in the crease. Moore has been exceptional in his last seven games, going 4-2-1 with a .939 saves percentage and a 2.20 goals against average, and most recently being named CCHA Rookie of the Month for February.

Bowling Green has held its own on the road this year, going 6-8-1 and allowing the fourth fewest goals against when traveling.

In November when Northern played at Bowling Green, the Falcons prevailed in the opener 6-2 before NMU bounced back for a 2-0 win.

Colella had a multipoint series with two goals, one on a power play and one shorthanded.

Papp also registered two assists.

NMU is 8-2-1 against the Falcons in their last 11 matchups.

Here are a few other notes about NMU as gleaned by NMU SI:

• Ghantous leads the ‘Cats in career points against BGSU with 17 points in 17 games (5-12), while Colella leads active Wildcats in career goals (9-4–13) against them.

• Gallacher leads the CCHA in blocks with 70, also seventh nationally. At home, the ‘Cats lead the CCHA in blocks with 278.

• The Wildcats lead the CCHA in power play goals with 27 and are second in power play percentage at 23.1%.

• The ‘Cats are 25-16-3 on Senior Nights dating back to the 1979-80 season and are 1-1 against the Falcons on Senior Night.

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


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