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‘Cats come up short

NMU rallies again, but falls to St. Cloud in OT

MARQUETTE — It’s been said before, but if there’s one word to describe the Northern Michigan University hockey team this year, it’s resilient.

After rallying for three goals in the third period to force a tie with St. Cloud State Friday, the No. 16-ranked Wildcats did it again Saturday, and this time without a 5-on-3, five-minute power play to help them out.

However, after tying the game at 4-4 and sending it into overtime, NMU gave up the game-winner as Huskies defenseman Nick Perbix took advantage of a tired Wildcats defense and snapped a shot past goalie John Hawthorne, helping the Huskies escape 5-4.

When asked to sum up the game, Northern head coach Grant Potulny said it came down to defense and the Wildcats were just not good enough in their own end of the rink.

“I’m sure they’re tired of me telling them the same things after every night too, and I’m tired of saying it,” he said. “The teams that can score sometimes can get away with, maybe not playing as well as you should to win. We’ve shown we can score. You score seven goals on a weekend and you don’t win a game. But you have to be able to defend too, and right now, we’re not defending.”

Down 4-1 to start the third, things looked bleak for the Wildcats as they struggled to generate offense all game. However, NMU gradually chipped away at its deficit and got back into the game. After St. Cloud goalie David Hrenak robbed Wildcats forward Darien Craighead on the doorstep with a sprawling glove save earlier in the period, Craighead’s teammate Luke Voltin made Hrenak look foolish. The senior surged into the slot, grabbed a loose puck, deked around Hrenak and tucked it into an empty net to get Northern within two of the Huskies at the 9:33 mark. A minute later, NMU winger Griffin Loughran showed his patience as he waited and waited in the slot for an opening and beat Hrenak blocker-side for his ninth goal of the year.

Now trailing by just one, the Wildcats really started attacking the net. After getting St. Cloud’s Easton Brodzinski to commit a penalty, NMU made the Huskies pay at the 11:22 mark as Ty Readman got a pass by the near post and wristed it over Hrenak’s glove to tie the game at 4-4. The Wildcats almost took the lead in the final minute of the third, but Grant Loven’s shot rang off the far post and kept the game tied.

“I think tonight, part of it was, we got into some penalty trouble early,” Potulny said. “That was part of it for sure. I thought we came a little bit in the second period. There was a little bit of a wave and a little bit of a push. But we played much better in the third. To be honest, I’m probably more pleased with how we played tonight than I was last night, even though we tied the game last night.

“You kind of look at your team and your season and we probably won some games we maybe shouldn’t have along the stretch. Tonight, maybe we deserved better. It always evens itself out in the end. But the area of major concern for us is our ability to keep the puck out of our net. Now, it’s starting to cost us.”

While the third went well for the Wildcats, the first period was pretty much a disaster. Loughran was whistled for tripping just 1:11 into the game and although the Wildcats killed off the penalty, the Huskies scored eight seconds later on a goal by Sam Hentges. Just two minutes later, St. Cloud struck again, this time connecting on a power play. Shortly after Hank Sorensen was sent to the box, Huskies defenseman Spencer Meier beat Wildcats goalie Nolan Kent to the near post and St. Cloud led 2-0. Kent was then pulled and replaced by Hawthorne.

“All weekend, we played probably one good period,” Loughran said. “Maybe 10 minutes, so we’ve got to figure out a way how to play at our best for 60 minutes because at the end, no matter what happens, it always comes to end up biting you in the butt. We’ve got to find a way to play a full 60.”

Northern’s only good scoring opportunity came just over 12 minutes in as defenseman Rylan Yaremko got the puck in the slot and patiently waited for his chance. However, his shot rang off the far post and out, keeping the Wildcats off the scoreboard.

Hawthorne did his best to hold off the Huskies offense, but he couldn’t for long as Brodzinski collected the puck on a rush and beat the freshman netminder glove-side to put the Huskies up 3-0 going into the second period.

“That’s the difference when you play teams like this,” Potulny said. “They have players, like we do, that can score from 35 or 40 feet if you give them a look. I think we’ve maybe given some looks to other teams that maybe don’t have those kinds of players. It’s hard to learn your lesson when it doesn’t go in and tonight, it did.”

The second period started a little better for the Wildcats as they started to put some pressure on Hrenak. At the 5:54 mark, Northern cashed in. Loughran put a shot on net that Hrenak kick right to Andre Ghantous, who then beat the netminder to the near post.

The rest of the period was dominated by the Huskies though. St. Cloud killed off a penalty where it only allowed one good look, and with 10:30 left, Brodzinski got his second goal of the night. The winger got a pass from Jack Poehling and fired it past Hawthorne. A minute later, the Huskies almost scored again, but Micah Miller’s shot rang off the post.

With 7:10 remaining in the period, St. Cloud had a golden opportunity to take a four-goal advantage as Hawthorne was tangled up trying to gather the puck behind the NMU net. However, despite having a wide-open net to shoot at, the Huskies couldn’t capitalize. The Wildcats had one more scoring opportunity before the end of the second, this time while shorthanded, but Mitch Slattery’s shot was sent wide by Hrenak.

With Craighead, Yaremko and Slattery just missing out on potentially giving the Wildcats the lead over the course of the game, it was clear that the bounces weren’t going to go Northern’s way.

“You want those breaks, but we didn’t really deserve them,” Readman said. “At the end of the day, you have to play hard and you have to play to deserve those breaks. When you’re playing a good, strong game, those breaks are going to go in. We didn’t deserve them and that’s what happened.”

The Wildcats host Alaska Fairbanks next weekend with Friday’s game at 7 p.m. EST and Saturday’s game at 6 p.m.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.