After falling to the Western Michigan Broncos 4-2 on Friday, the NMU hockey team picked up its first Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) win of the season in thrilling fashion on Saturday night, downing the Broncos, 4-3, in overtime.
Freshman Wildcat forward Mark Olver tied the game with less than a second remaining in regulation and the two teams headed to overtime.
As the clock ran down once more, sophomore NMU forward Matt Butcher took the puck across the blue line and fought through the offensive zone. Butcher flipped the game-winning goal past Bronco netminder Riley Gill with just 3.3 seconds remaining in overtime.
The goals were the first in the career of each player.
“It’s obviously been a long time waiting,” Butcher said. “They don’t come any bigger than that.”
Butcher, who totaled 38 goals and 63 assists for the Chilliwack Chiefs (BCHL) in 2005-2006, collected just four assists in his freshman season with the Wildcats. Already this year, he has a goal and five assists.
“Nobody was more disappointed to go from 100-some points to no goals last year than Matt,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “I think it was a big relief for him to get the goal the other night and I think the way he got it was huge.”
As his point totals reflect, Butcher is playing a more physical style of hockey this year. He is more involved, is battling for the puck more often and is handling the puck almost three times more often than last year, Kyle said.
After weeks of hard work, it was important for the Wildcats (2-8-0 overall, 1-7-0 CCHA) to finally come out of a weekend on a positive note, Kyle said.
“There are no moral victories in this sport,” he said. “You have to get wins and you have to put up points. [The players] needed to get something for their efforts.”
Picking up an assist
When junior NMU forward Nick Sirota took the ice against the Broncos (3-5-0, 1-3-0) on Saturday night, there was a new addition to his uniform: a capital ‘A.’
Sirota was named an assistant captain prior to the game and joins defenseman T.J. Miller and forward Billy Smith as Wildcat assistant captains.
“It’s definitely an honor. My mindset-I don’t think it’s really going to change,” Sirota said. “As long as I just keep working hard, hopefully people are going to follow.”
Kyle said that it was a simple decision to give the honor to Sirota.
“We said early in the year that we were going to name the guys that were our captains early,” Kyle said. “We were going to wait and see what developed. Nicky has earned it.”
After picking up a goal and an assist in Saturday’s game, Sirota now leads the Wildcats with seven goals and six assists through 10 games played.
“Does it surprise me that he is having the success that he is having? Not really,” Kyle said. “We knew Nick was going to score his goals.”
Kyle added that Sirota’s biggest asset may be the jump and energy that he brings to the team every night.
“When he does that,” Kyle continued, “The goals are just a bonus.”
On the road again
Last season, the Wildcats were searching for victories when the Bowling Green Falcons came to town. NMU picked up wins against BGSU in back-to-back nights.
The Falcons (5-2-0, 4-1-0) will likely have that memory in the back of their collective mind when they play host to Northern Michigan on Nov. 16-17.
It is still early in the year, but this incarnation of the Bowling Green team seems to be a far cry from the one that finished 7-29-2 a season ago.
“College hockey is a crapshoot. Everybody has good players. Every team you play has good players,” Kyle said. “A couple of things have to go right for you, and you can go from not being very good to being pretty good.”
Falcon forward Derek Whitmore currently ranks third in the nation with eight goals. Whitmore and the rest of his team have historically caused problems for the Wildcats.
Since Kyle has been behind the NMU bench, the ‘Cats are perfect against the Falcons at home. NMU is 1-4-1 at Bowling Green in that same time.
Kyle said that the team’s focus has to be on Friday night, and that his players have to focus on playing smart hockey and on limiting mistakes.
“We’ve put ourselves behind the eight-ball so many times and it’s happened on Friday night,” he said. “Now, you’re not going to win games or win series in the first period on Friday night. But you can lose them.”