On Saturday night, the Wildcat hockey team performed as though it was in an exhibition game against the United States Team Development Program’s Under-18 team. Luckily for the ‘Cats, who fell 5-2 at home, they were.
Despite the fact that the game was an exhibition contest and meant nothing in the big picture, the loss stung a bit for Northern Michigan (10-15-1 overall, 7-11-0 CCHA), as it came at the hands of players that have not yet reached their 18th birthdays.
“You never like to lose games, but they’re a good team,” junior Wildcat forward Tim Hartung said. “It’s not going to hurt us in any way in the NCAA, but whenever you play a game you always want to come to play and you never want to take any nights off. I just don’t think we came ready to play.”
The game served two main purposes for NMU: it gave the coaches a chance to see some inexperienced players in new situations and it allowed the team leaders a chance to rest. Seniors Matt Siddall and Andrew Sarauer, along with junior Nick Sirota and sophomore T.J. Miller were among the Wildcats that didn’t suit up for the game.
“I think that when you play that team, there is always a tendency for your better players to not really be as prepared or as focused as you’d like them to be,” head coach Walt Kyle said. “The truth is, if I could sit out 10 regulars in that game, I would.”
Scouting things out
Kyle said that, as a coach, he is aware of the number of scouts that usually follow the U-18 team around. With that in mind, he started freshman netminder Reid Ellingson, hoping he may turn some heads.
Instead, the goalie allowed five goals on 24 shots, while taking the loss.
“Reid got an opportunity to play. I knew going into the game that Reid was a draft-able player and we played all our guys that were draft-able,” Kyle said. “For Reid, it was a chance to get seen. I would’ve liked to have seen him have a great game, for his own sake.”
Scouts or no scouts, NMU must now prepare to move on to their next challenge, a series against the powerhouse No. 2 Michigan Wolverines (22-3-1, 15-2-1).
“It’s pretty embarrassing for the organization to let some 18-unders walk into our barn and take over,” junior forward Nathan Sigmund said. “But it’s one of those weekends that guys have to put behind them, because we’ve got a big weekend coming.”
Prior to last weekend, the Wolverines had spent the majority of the last two months atop the college hockey world and had won 22 of their last 23 contests. Then they ran into the No. 4 Michigan State Spartans (17-5-5, 13-2-3), who beat and tied Michigan over the weekend.
The Wildcats have already seen Michigan once this season, as they were swept by the Wolverines during an October weekend in Marquette. The upcoming series will be in Michigan’s Yost Ice Arena and should give the NMU players a measuring stick for their season.
“The past couple of years we’ve gotten one down there, but that is one of the hardest places to play in college hockey,” Hartung said. “If we don’t come ready to play, it could be really bad. But if we come ready to play, I think we’ve got guys in here that can play with them.”
Kyle also talked about how the two teams are so similar with regards to age and that both have rosters that are overwhelmed with young talent.
The difference, according to the coach, was that Michigan has a powerful core of veteran players. Senior forwards Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik have combined for 40 goals this season and teamed up to collect seven points during the last series against NMU.
“You really have to be cognizant of those two guys and they are able to play those guys a ton,” Kyle said. “They’ve also got a first-round pick with (Mark) Matera at defense and a first or second-round pick with (defenseman Chris) Summers. They’re loaded.”
And while his team may have been a little flat against the U-18 team last weekend, Kyle feels his team will respond well this weekend. The team has to respect Michigan, he said, but they also can’t be intimidated.
“Our guys have to understand and be very prepared because they are a very dynamic team. I don’t imagine there will be any underestimating.”