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Katarina Rothhorn
Katarina Rothhorn
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The first message I ever sent from my Northern Michigan University sanctioned email was to the editor-in-chief of the North Wind asking if there was any way I could join the staff. Classes hadn't even...

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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.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

‘Cats sweep Spartans

Since the beginning of the season, the NMU Wildcats have been saying that they are a better team than their record shows. The ‘Cats knew they were a young and inexperienced team, but that they had the talent to one day compete with some of the Central Collegiate Athletic Conference’s (CCHA) best.

That day may have already arrived for the Wildcats, who swept the defending national champion Michigan State Spartans out of Marquette by scores of 3-1 and 3-0 over the weekend. Entering the weekend, the Spartans were ranked sixth in the nation according to the USA Today D-I Poll.

“Any time you get a sweep, it’s big,” NMU defenseman T.J. Miller said. “When we came out and got that second win, it was big for us. Playoffs are right around the corner. It’s good and hopefully we can keep that going.”

The sweep, which is just the second of the year for the ‘Cats, comes a week after NMU tied a pair with the nation’s top-ranked team, the Michigan Wolverines.

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“We’ve talked all year about being a young team and a team that is growing and improving,” Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle said. “Our last couple of weekends, to me, have shown that we are a team that has improved and gotten better. Early in the year, both Michigan and Michigan State swept us. Coming back and playing them in the second half gave us the opportunity to use them as a kind of measuring stick.”

In Friday’s 3-1 victory against MSU, the ‘Cats (12-15-3 overall, 9-11-2 CCHA) controlled the play throughout the game, securing an early lead which they would never relinquish. In the process, junior forward Nick Sirota netted all three NMU markers, collecting a hat trick.

The following night, the’Cats put in a nearly identical performance, controlling the pace of play. The main difference on Saturday was that the Spartans (18-8-5, 14-5-3) failed to score.

“We knew that we had to step up our game if we were going to compete with Michigan or Michigan State,” sophomore NMU forward Billy Smith said. “We know that we’re capable of competing against teams like that as long as we show up and we work hard.”

Also stepping up for the ‘Cats over the weekend was the defense, which put in a strong effort, allowing just one goal on 56 shots against the CCHA’s top power play team. On the weekend, the Spartans were 1-for-18 with the advantage.

And while sophomore goalie Brian Stewart, who was named the CCHA Goaltender of the Week, stopped 55 of those 56 shots, he wasn’t forced to make too many amazing plays.

“I thought Stewart was very good, but I thought that he didn’t have to be good a lot,” Kyle said. “I thought that was important, because [against Michigan], he had to be good a lot.”

Though the defense in front of Stewart played well enough that he didn’t always have to make highlight-reel saves, the goalie’s performance was indicative of the team’s play.

“One of the reasons I think we’re playing better as a team is because we’ve really found a belief in Stewart and a confidence in him and what he is capable of doing,” Kyle said. “I think that’s something a good team always has to find. I think when you find that, it can give confidence throughout the lineup and I’m seeing that in our room right now.”

Stewart was also aided by the NMU skaters’ ability and willingness to get into shooting lanes and put their bodies on the line.

“Our defense out there was huge. The top four [defensemen] logged a lot of minutes and that’s something that we’re probably going to have to do for the rest of the season,” Miller said. “On the penalty kill, that’s just something that we have to do to limit their goals and if we can do that, I think we’ll be good.”

The entire defense performed very well, Kyle said, but Miller’s play still stood out.

“I can single T.J. out in that Michigan State series because I thought he was unbelievable out there,” Kyle said.
“He was a physical force, he was blocking shots and he was one of the dominant players in the series. I’m amazed he can walk today because of the number of shots he blocked.”

Miller and the rest of the Wildcats will soon head down to Columbus to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes (9-20-3, 5-15-2). The Wildcats, who are in a fight for a home-ice game in the first round of the CCHA Playoffs, know that they need to keep a level head as the end of the season nears.

“[The mood in the locker room] is no different,” Smith said. “We know that those were just a couple of games to build off. We’ve been up and down and we’ve had times where we’ve played well and times where we haven’t. I think this weekend really just helps us get to where we’d like to be going into playoffs.”

The all-time series between the Wildcats and Buckeyes is 29-29-3. The ‘Cats haven’t been to Columbus since upsetting the Buckeyes in the first round of last year’s CCHA Playoffs.

“They’re still a good team, even though they haven’t quite put together a good year,” Miller said.”It’s still one of those teams that we can’t lose to. We need points. We need to get up in the standings so we can have home ice in the first round.”

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