Momentum building

MARQUETTE – There’s two weeks left in the regular season and the Northern Michigan University hockey team is preparing for the playoffs.

The Wildcats have already clinched a WCHA playoff berth, and thanks to last weekend’s sweep at third-place Bowling Green State, NMU remains tied with Bemidji State for the last home playoff spot.

After struggling offensively the last few weeks, the Wildcats caught fire against the Falcons. On Friday, NMU came from behind to beat BG in overtime and perhaps more impressively, on Saturday, the Wildcats stormed back from a 3-0 deficit to knock off the previously No. 8-ranked Falcons again.

Over the weekend, the Wildcats not only got two much-needed victories, but also managed to score two power-play goals against the team with the best penalty killers in the nation.

Even though last weekend was a big success, NMU head coach Walt Kyle doesn’t think all of the Wildcats’ problems have been solved.

“I don’t think the ship has been righted yet,” he said. “I think some of the guys found their game. It’s a step in the right direction and we’re still in the battle for home ice.”

One player who found his game again was NMU goalie Michael Doan. The junior had lost four straight, but against the Falcons, he got back into the groove.

“Doan was a big part of our comeback,” Wildcats captain Ryan Kesti said. “He made some great saves, one of them on a breakaway. He got everybody going.”

The Falcons are known for their speed, so Doan prepared for that. He feels that team chemistry seems to be back.

“I was really focused in practice and I was fast as I could be,” he said. “I think in the third period Saturday, everyone was on the same page. I know that it’s a cliche, but we felt that way. That sweep was big for team morale.”

With their morale high again, the Wildcats take on Upper Peninsula rival Lake Superior State this weekend. Northern swept the Lakers in Sault Ste. Marie back in October.

The Lakers sit ninth in the conference, but thanks to Alaska-Fairbanks being ineligible for the postseason, they still have a chance to get in the WCHA playoffs.

LSSU struggles in all areas. They are 58th out of 59 teams nationally in team offense and tied for 51st in defense. Lake State also has the worst power play in the country and is tied for 56th with its penalty kill. The only bright spot has been the skilled play of freshman goalie Gordon Defiel, who has a decent .916 saves percentage and three shutouts.

Despite all those issues, the Lakers have pulled off some upsets this season. They swept Bemidji State, defeated Bowling Green on the road and surprised many by winning the Florida College Classic tournament in December.

“Their young guys have gotten some experience now and … they’ve started to come together,” Kyle said. “I know that they compete very hard. Everybody is credible in this league.”

Doan agreed.

“They’ve gotten better every game,” he said. “Our success last weekend has nothing to do with this weekend. We’re not going to take them lightly.”

Friday’s and Saturday’s games start at 7:07 p.m. at the Berry Events Center.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.