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Slow start spells doom

NMU?gives up early goals, can’t rally vs. Spartans

Northern Michigan’s André Ghantous takes on Michigan State’s Christian Krygier during Friday nights game on Oct. 11, 2019 at the Berry Events Center. (Journal photo by Amy Grigas)

By RYAN STIEG

Journal Sports Writer

MARQUETTE — One of the problems the Northern Michigan University hockey team had last season was that it would surrender an early goal and then be forced to play catchup the rest of the way.

Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.

On Friday night, it was the latter as the Wildcats gave up those kinds of goals in the first and second periods and couldn’t close the gap as they dropped their season opener 5-3 to Michigan State at the Berry Events Center.

“They capitalized on their chances and we were kind of always playing catchup throughout the game,” NMU forward Grant Loven said. “I think we just need to bear down and be ready for tomorrow. We’ve got to try to score first and bury our chances and bounces and build off that throughout the game and get momentum early.”

Despite the loss, Wildcats head coach Grant Potulny was in somewhat good spirits after the game and said a lot of the problems his team had was due to inexperience.

“To be honest, I thought we were playing very well,” he said. “We made a mistake on the penalty kill, but the result’s the same.

“You’re chasing the game a little bit. There’s some indicators that usually tell you if you’re going to win and we hit a lot of them tonight. We scored on the power play, we scored three, get to 30 (shots), keep them under 25, we kept them at 20. All of those things are for sure positives.

“We had some freshmen mistakes and inexperienced mistakes. Those are things that are going to happen when you have 16 freshmen and sophomores. That does not change the outcome of the game, but you have to, as a coach, you’re coaching for the end of the year.”

NMU got off to a bad start and MSU took advantage. After Cole Krygier rang a shot off the crossbar from the slot four minutes in, he connected on his second chance a few seconds later when got a pass from Josh Nodler and fired a shot from the point past Wildcats goalie Nolan Kent at the 5:31 mark.

The Wildcats picked up their offense for the remainder of the period, putting more pressure on MSU goalie John Lethemon. After Mitch Slattery and Griffin Loughran couldn’t cash in midway through the period, Hank Sorensen did when Northern was on its first power play. The freshman defenseman got a feed from Ben Newhouse and blasted it past Lethemon to tie the game 1-1 at the 17:57 mark.

Then a costly interference penalty on Loughran gave the Spartans the lead. Seconds after the power play started, Dennis Cesana beat Kent to the near post to put MSU up 2-1 heading to the second.

“I think the PK (penalty kill) was lacking a bit tonight,” NMU forward Vincent De Mey said. “Just a couple of mental mistakes, but we’ll correct that and build on what we did against (United States) NTDP (last Saturday) and we should be good.”

MSU took its momentum into the next period, extending its lead to two goals less than a minute into the frame. In front of the Wildcats net, Spartans forward Tommy Apap snuck the puck past Kent for a 3-1 cushion.

With NMU struggling to generate chances, the Spartans almost picked up their fourth tally with 13 minutes left, but Kent stood tall. He stopped Jerad Rosburg in the slot, then stuffed Nicolas Muller twice in the crease.

After Kent’s big saves, Northern started to get going. Sorensen fired a shot off the post with 8:25 left and Darien Craighead would’ve beat Lethemon to the far post, but the cross-ice pass was too late and it sailed wide.

The Wildcats got their best scoring opportunity of the game while on the power play as Phil Beaulieu made an impressive move to get around two Spartans defensemen and tried to tuck it past Lethemon’s outstretched leg, but the puck went off the side of the post and NMU went into the break still down 3-1.

“I thought we were good in the first (period) and good in the third,” Potulny said. “I thought for the second period, we were sleepy. Hey, the game was won for them and lost for us in about a minute and a half of game clock time. They scored at the end of the first and at the beginning of the second. Those were daggers.”

Unlike the previous two periods, the third started quietly, but picked up midway through with a flurry of offense. At the 9:30 mark, NMU got one goal back when De Mey got a pass from Newhouse and fired a shot on net. The puck rang off the far post and then rolled past Lethemon to get the Wildcats within one.

Less than two minutes later, the Spartans got that goal back when Kent was caught way out of position by the near post. That left a wide-open net for Apap, who easily tapped it in, and put MSU back up by two. However, just 28 seconds later, Northern struck again as Lethemon coughed up a rebound on a De Mey shot and Loven beat the goalie five-hole.

Northern had one last decent opportunity in third to tie the game when it received a power play with five minutes left, but couldn’t get anything out of it. MSU then closed out the win with an empty-net goal by Brody Stevens.

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

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