Wildcats need all the WCHA points they can get

MARQUETTE – It’s getting down to crunch time for the Northern Michigan University hockey team. From this point on, every series will be crucial for the Wildcats.

NMU currently holds a four-point lead over Ferris State and Bemidji State, the latter which is coming to town this weekend.

The Wildcats also have a one-point lead over Alaska-Fairbanks, but the Nanooks are ineligible for the postseason.

NMU was only able to take one point from Bemidji when the teams played back in December, so Northern will need to get at least one win to stay ahead of BSU.

“You’re not going to back into anything,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “There are eight games left in our year and you have to win games. If you’re a good team, you’ll do that. That’s No. 1.

“We want to get home ice. We want to lock down that (No.) 4 spot and potentially, that third spot, depending on what happens.

“We also want to get our game in order so we can be successful in the (WCHA) playoffs,” he added. “We’ve got a lot of things to do over the next eight games and you have to have success right now to be successful in the playoffs.”

The Wildcats will be without injured starting goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom for the second straight series, which means backup netminders Michael Doan and/or Derek Dun will see action again this weekend.

NMU was in a similar situation the previous time it played BSU.

Dun did a good job against Minnesota-Duluth when he replaced Doan late in Saturday’s game. However, Kyle hasn’t decided which one will be in goal yet.

“He (Dun) did a good job, but we’re going to look at it all and we’ll see where we are with both those guys,” he said.

The Beavers have had mostly positive results in the second half of the season.

They notched a home sweep of Alabama-Huntsville, then surprised college hockey analysts by winning the North Star College Cup after getting back-to-back wins over nationally ranked Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State.

However, BSU got swept at Lake Superior State, which is only two points ahead of WCHA cellar-dweller Alaska-Anchorage.

“They beat us and tied us there,” Kyle said of the previous series with Bemidji on Dec. 12-13 when the Beavers won 4-2 and the teams tied 1-1 in overtime. “They played us exceptionally well and they’re a team that’s played very well here in the back half of the year.

“I know they’re going to compete; they’re going to work hard. They have some talent and they’re healthy. We’re going to be challenged.”

Sophomore defenseman Brock Maschmeyer said the Wildcats have improved since the December series against the Beavers and that could help Northern this time around.

“The team started to come together a little bit more, so I find that the team we have now is a lot better than the one we had then,” he said.

“So having that behind us and having everybody going, it’s going to be a good weekend.”

BSU has a balanced scoring attack with Matt Prapavessis at the top with 20 points and Brendan Harms right behind with 18. Forward Charlie O’Connor leads the Beavers with nine goals.

As far as goaltending goes, freshman Michael Bitzer has gotten the majority of playing time and has put up some good stats (2.00 goals-against average and .919 saves percentage).

Both Friday and Saturday’s games begin 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.