After 10 days off, NMU skaters face No. 20 Michigan Tech
MARQUETTE — When a team has a long layoff, its next game can go two ways.
The team can either be well-rested and ready to go from the opening whistle, or it can be sluggish out of the gate and stay that way the rest of the game.
On Friday night, fans will see which Northern Michigan University team will be on the ice as it will have been 10 days since the Wildcats (6-9, 5-3 WCHA) have played a game and that was an overtime loss to No. 5/6 Notre Dame.
NMU will definitely need to be the former as it will be facing off against No. 20 Michigan Tech (8-5-1, 7-0-1), a team that has scored 19 goals in its past four games. With the Wildcats’ offense struggling right now (55th in the nation), the common thought might be that this might be the wrong time to face the hot Huskies, but Northern head coach Grant Potulny doesn’t think so.
“I think it’s a great time to see them,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “They’re playing great. They don’t have a blemish on their record in the league. We’re coming off an off weekend, so we’ve kind of got to get our legs underneath us. I think it’s such an emotional rivalry that I know I’m excited for it and I know the players are too. I think I have a better idea of what it is now too. You almost have to live it and now, I think I have a better idea. I think trying to keep our emotions in check over the course of the game is going to be important.
When asked if he’s noticed any extra jump in his players’ skates since the layoff, Potulny said he did during Monday’s practice.
“Yesterday, I did,” he said. “I thought there was some pop in their legs again. That was a tough stretch. Out of our 15 games, we’ve played nine away from home. We’ve had to go seven plus or eight plus hours on a bus four different times. It’s been a tough stretch that way. So being at home and kind of having a weekend to recover, and catch your breath, I think is going to pay dividends going forward in the end.”
Looking at the Huskies, senior forward Jake Lucchini (six goals, 16 points) is off to a great start, but it’s not just him that’s been helping out with Tech’s early success as the Huskies are getting contributions from everyone in their lineup.
“If you look at their stat line, there’s a bunch of guys who have five to seven points,” Potulny said. “The whole team is playing great. There’s also some freshmen that are playing pretty well. They’re just generating offense from their group. That’s a sign of a good team. They’re hard to play against because they play hard and they defend their net well. They try to get to your net and they’re producing.
“If you can get insurance goals and if you can extend your lead on people, then you play a little bit freer and more confident. They’ve been able to do that and (have) been able to extend a lead on people and it just continues to breed confidence though your program. Their power play has been good (14th in the nation) and they’re getting good goaltending. At this point, if you’re evaluating their program, they’re kind of firing on all cylinders right now.”
NMU, on the other hand, has been inconsistent. In the Wildcats’ game against the Fighting Irish, there were moments where Northern was keeping up with the defending national runner-up. However, penalties crippled any chance of Northern generating any offensive momentum. In the end, penalties are what did the Wildcats in as Notre Dame cashed in with a goal on the power play quickly in overtime.
Despite the final outcome, Potulny thought his team looked good overall and that it seems to be getting on track again.
“I thought we played a really good game to be honest,” he said. “I thought the first period was kind of a feeling out process. I would’ve like to see us jump on them a little quicker because maybe we were more battle-tested. We had games coming off the weekend and they were off 10 days. In the second period, I thought we carried the pace of the play the whole period. Then the third period, to start the period, they kind of started imposing their will a little bit in the game. Even on the bench, I said guys that’s their push. There’s 10 minutes left and we never got to get to our push because (of) penalties. We gave up 12 scoring chances and seven penalties and we got six of them done (killed off). The effort was there.
“To be honest, talking with friends on the other staff, we felt that there was not a lot of room on the rink for any plays to be made and that was their exact comment too. The takeaway is that you played a team that played for the championship last year and you went blow for blow with them. I think we’re trending the right way and we’ve got to continue it.”
The Wildcats play at 7 p.m. Friday in Marquette and at 7:07 p.m. Saturday in Houghton. The Student Athletic Advisory Committee is also sponsoring a Teddy Bear Toss on Friday where the bears/stuffed animals will be collected by SAAC at the beginning of the second intermission and donated to The Mining Journal Cheer Club. The Cheer Club will then give the items to the The Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul for distribution to families in need of Christmas gifts.