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NMU set for unusual nonconference series vs. Lakers

MARQUETTE – After getting the season off to a solid start with two ties against Big Ten powerhouse Wisconsin, the Northern Michigan University hockey team returns to campus this weekend for its home opener Friday and will try to pick up its first win.

The Wildcats take on WCHA rival Lake Superior State this weekend in a nonconference series. It may seem odd to NMU fans, but Wildcats head coach Walt Kyle said there was a reason for it.

“The way our schedule rotates, we always play (Michigan) Tech four times, but all the other teams go through a rotation,” he said. “Some years, we only play them two times, and what we’ve done is make the decision with Tech and Lake State, that in those years, we’ll make an effort to play the team that we only play two times another two games.

“At some point, what we hopefully can do is have a true Upper Peninsula championship where we play each team four times.”

NMU will take on a Lakers squad that is off to a rough start. Lake State lost to the U.S. National Under-18 Development Team in an exhibition, then followed that up with losses to now-No. 1 North Dakota and Michigan State. The Lakers held a brief lead against UND, but got lit up for five straight goals.

Despite that, Kyle thinks that the Lakers will be a good match for his squad this weekend.

“I’ve only seen a little bit of them so far, but they look like a really improved team,” he said. “They played two good hockey teams and wound up on the short end, but I thought they played well.”

Lake State finished last season at 8-28-2, but managed to win the Florida College Hockey Classic with upset wins over Cornell and Notre Dame while also making it into the WCHA playoffs as the eighth seed.

The Lakers are led by goaltender Gordon Defiel, who was one of their few bright spots last season. However, NMU easily counters that with star goalie Mathias Dahlstrom, who didn’t play last weekend due to a sore knee, and his understudy Atte Tolvanen, who was named WCHA Rookie of the Week.

“I thought Atte looked really good,” Kyle said. “We watched him practice and I thought he did well. I thought he played exceptional and we’re comfortable with him. He’s really a focused kid. His approach to the game was great. He was there mentally, he was wired in and you could see it in his play.”

Tolvanen, who made his first collegiate starts last weekend, thought he played well and credited his teammates as well.

“I thought we had a good weekend as a team and I was happy how the team played in front of me,” he said. “There’s a couple of goals that I would like to have back, but overall, I’m pretty happy with the way I played.”

The Wildcats took three out of four games from the Lakers last season to win the Cappo Cup and players are intent on keeping the trophy in Marquette.

“We’re always aiming for that,” NMU captain Brock Maschmeyer said. “We’re never going to want to give that up. This won’t be that year.”

Looking back at last weekend, NMU came back Friday night with two third-period goals only to give up a late one and settled for a 2-2 tie. On Saturday, the Wildcats jumped out to a 3-0 lead, then gave up three in the third and were dealt a 3-3 draw.

It may seem like the weekend was a missed opportunity in that the Wildcats could have swept the Badgers for the second straight season, but Kyle doesn’t see it that way.

“It wasn’t disappointing,” he said. “When you’re ahead both games late, you’d like to get the wins. Friday night, we were down 1-0 and came out in the third and took the lead. I think the guys showed tremendous character doing that. Then they got a 6-on-5 goal and that happens. We were resilient and held the tie in overtime.

“Saturday night was almost the reverse of that. We went up big at 3-0 and controlled the first two periods. They came out in the third really hard and we gave up a turnover goal. Then they scored some power play goals on us.

“It was disappointing that we gave up that lead, but I was happy with the resiliency and the leadership that we had to pull that back together. Sometimes when you’re up 3-0 and then all of a sudden you’re tied, it’s like air coming out of a balloon. Somehow you have to stop it and I think the guys did a good job of that.”

Even though they had to settle for two ties, the Wildcats have moved on from last weekend, and are looking forward to playing in front of a loud crowd at the Berry Events Center Friday night.

“I’m excited to have my first game here,” freshman Anthony Paskaruk said. “I think the team is excited to and I think we’re going to come out strong.”

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