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The North Wind

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Megan Poe
Opinion Editor

My name is Megan Poe and I’m an English (writing concentration) and Philosophy double major at Northern. My concurrent experience with being published in and interning for literary magazines has landed...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Opinion — Its okay to outgrow your college friends
Opinion — It's okay to outgrow your college friends
Megan PoeApril 12, 2024

Young guns power Wildcats’ streak

While the majority of NMU students sat home during last week’s Thanksgiving break, the NMU hockey team picked up its first sweep of the season in a home-and-home series against the Lake Superior State Lakers.

After winning 4-2 in Marquette on Friday, the Wildcats (5-9-0 overall, 4-8-0 CCHA) traveled to Sault Ste. Marie for Saturday’s contest and downed the Lakers (2-9-1, 0-6-0) by a score of 3-1.

The ‘Cats knew going in that it would be a heated weekend against the rival Lakers. They prepared for gritty, physical play against a well-coached team that often refuses to beat itself, NMU head coach Walt Kyle said.

“Being prepared for it is one thing,” he said. “Being able to work and execute through it is another and I thought the guys did a great job.”

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The pair of victories gives the Wildcats a three-game win streak and is a certain improvement over last season’s 1-3-0 record against Lake Superior State.

“One of our goals every year is to try and be the best team in the Upper Peninsula,” Kyle said. “And we put some significance on this series.”

A major reason for the NMU wins, according to Kyle, was his team’s ability to control and win third periods. Many times, the problem with a young hockey team is that they often feel rushed to win a game and they don’t have the patience to stick to the basics, he said.

“In both of those games, we were tied or close in the third period and we were able to win the third period both nights and pull out wins because of it,” Kyle said.

Hitting the Mark

One guy who knows a little bit about coming through in the third period is freshman Wildcat forward Mark Olver, who netted his first collegiate goal in the final second of regulation against Western Michigan two weeks ago.

Last weekend, Olver continued to impress, scoring two goals and adding two assists in the series against the Lakers. For his efforts, he was selected as the CCHA Rookie of the Week.

“Mark came in with high expectations, certainly,” Kyle said. “He is going to be a very dynamic, very good player here and he has the skill set to show up on the score sheet on a regular basis.”

After missing two weeks with a concussion early in the season, Olver has collected three goals and five assists in nine games.

Olver attributed his explosive weekend to his line mates, freshman forward Phil Fox and sophomore forward Billy Smith. On the weekend, the trio collected eight total points.

“[Smith] is just a bat-out-of-hell out there. He is the best guy I’ve ever played with and he just works his ass off,” Olver said. “Phil Fox is a banger and he’s one of the toughest guys I’ve played with, too. Having those two guys creates a lot of opportunities and that’s what happened last weekend.”

And while Kyle praised Olver for his offensive abilities, he said the freshman’s mindset may be even more impressive.

“Mark Olver cares about our hockey team,” Kyle said. “Mark cares about winning and losing. He understands that that is the most important thing and he does what it takes to help the team be successful.”

Reid: ready to take over

Kyle stated earlier in the year that victories were the most vital aspect for a goaltender. Although stopping the puck is the goalie’s job, the goal was always to win the game. For a while, the ‘Cats were having trouble doing either. Finally though, it seems NMU may have found the guy that can do both: freshman Reid Ellingson.

After getting some minimal time in the crease early in the year, Ellingson picked up his first win against Bowling Green on Nov. 17.

Then, last weekend, he was in-net for both victories against Lake Superior State, stopping 45 of 48 Laker shots.

“I don’t think it’s so much me. The team is playing a lot better,” Ellingson said. “But I am starting to feel a lot more comfortable.”

It is understandable that it took time for Ellingson to get comfortable. After finishing his high school career, Ellingson made the nearly unheard of jump from high school to college hockey. While Kyle said that Ellingson’s strong early-season play was unexpected, it is also a bit surprising that the 18-year-old even got the chance to start so soon.

“We didn’t think he would be in any of the first 15 (games), honestly, but we thought that if we got him in and got him adapted to the shooters, there was a chance he could come in and play for us,” Kyle said. “He has exceeded our timeline, for sure.”

For the season, Ellingson has a .905 save percentage. During NMU’s three-game winning streak, however, that percentage was .938.

Ellingson also defers the credit for his play to his teammates, specifically those defenders in front of him.

“We’re just really starting to gel and we’re starting to buy into the defensive concepts that we’ve been trying to [execute] all year,” he said.

On a whole, the defense is doing a better job of sticking to their man in front of the net, taking away shooting lanes and clearing loose pucks to limit offensive opportunities. In the end, though, the goalie must still stop the puck.

“When [Ellingson] got his opportunity, he made the most of it and I think he’s done a great job,” Kyle said. “If he continues to do that, it’s going to work wonders for our hockey team this year.”

Northern Exposure

The ‘Cats will carry their three-game streak north this weekend, as they face off against the Alaska Nanooks (0-7-1, 0-5-1). The Nanooks are still searching for their first victory of the season, but may have the CCHA’s most underrated home-ice advantage.

On Wednesday night, the Wildcats headed to Green Bay, Wisc. for the night. Early Thursday morning, they will begin a series of flights that will land them in Fairbanks, Ala. that night. Apart from the travel, the team will face a four-hour time difference.

“I’m not a guy to complain about travel or rinks, but this is the one trip that the travel really has an effect,” Kyle said. “When you try to adapt your body to that kind of change, it’s tough.”

NMU has not made the trip to Fairbanks since 2005 and the intense travel will be new for many of the younger Wildcats.

“I think we’re all young enough to adjust pretty quickly, but it’ll be interesting to see how my body adjusts to it,” Ellingson said. “We’re just going to have to really battle up there.”

Although the players will face hours of travel and physical exhaustion, they will still need to play a hockey game. Kyle insisted that any CCHA team is capable of winning on any night and that the players need to stay focused on Friday night’s game.

The Wildcat skaters maintain that they will be prepared for the weekend against the Nanooks.

“We’ll for sure be ready up there,” Olver said. “The guys want to do well and it’ll be another chance to show everyone that we had a shaky start, but we’re here for real.”

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