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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Lily Gouin
Lily Gouin
Assistant Sports Editor

Hi! My name is Lily Gouin I am in my third year here at NMU. I am from Appleton, WI majoring in communications and double minoring in multimedia journalism and public relations. In my free time, I like...

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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

MSU on deck for the Wildcats

Since Walt Kyle took over as head coach of the Northern Michigan Wildcat hockey team in 2002, the team has faced off with former head coach Rick Comley’s Michigan State Spartans 18 times, splitting the series with nine wins apiece.

On Friday, the rivalry will be renewed, as the Wildcats head to East Lansing to battle the defending national champion Spartans in a Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) quarterfinal best-of-three matchup. The game will mark the third time in Kyle’s tenure that his team has faced off against Comley’s Spartans in the CCHA playoffs. The Wildcats were victorious in both previous playoff games.

And while NMU (17-18-4 overall, 12-13-3 CCHA), with a large crop of underclassmen, lacks major playoff experience, the No. 6 Spartans (23-9-5, 19-6-3) are playoff-tested and should be prepared for the series.

“I expect their best effort,” Kyle said. “Everybody knows the capabilities of that team. They’re defending national champions. They’re a team that won it last year but was built to win it this year. They have a lot of high-end skill guys with playoff experience. They’ve got great goaltending and I have nothing but respect for Rick Comley. We’re going to have our hands full.”

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For some of the Wildcat skaters, like senior forward Matt Siddall, the Spartans are a familiar face. In his career at Northern, Siddall is 4-6 against Michigan State. After NMU downed Ohio State in first-round CCHA action, he knew he would soon need to prepare for a challenge.

“We’re going to enjoy this for a few hours and then you kind of wipe the slate clean and you recharge and get ready for the next series,” Siddall said after last Sunday’s victory over OSU. “We’re going up against a great team, one of the best teams in the country and we can’t take them lightly at all. We’re really going to have to bring our A-game. We’re going to have to play better and expect the best.”

In their last matchup–just three weeks ago–the Wildcats swept the Spartans during a weekend series in the Berry Events Center. And while NMU played well that weekend, Kyle refuses to use those games as a predictor for playoff outcomes.

“I don’t think Michigan State played as well as they were capable of a couple weeks ago in here,” he said. “We know that they’re going to bring a better game to the table down there in their building.”

On the bright side, however, Kyle has seen his players improve steadily over the last few weeks. He said that the Wildcats are worried less about who their opponent is at this point, and more about improving game by game and series by series.

“We have a lot of guys playing at the best level they’ve played all year,” Kyle said. “I think that’s really the key going into the playoffs. If we can get everybody to the tops of their games, we’ll play anybody and see where it falls.”

For the seventh year in a row, the Wildcats advanced past the first round of the CCHA Playoffs. The early playoff success comes after a regular season that NMU opened with a 1-8 overall record and a 0-7 mark in CCHA play. Those early struggles simply helped to bring the team together, Kyle said.

“The guys that have been [guiding] all year have done a real good job,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for the leadership on this team. We got off to a tough start, but coaches aren’t the guys who hold the team together in the room, it’s the players, and I think the leadership in the room has done a great job.”

Kyle added that, in his mind, the leaders aren’t just the guys designated as assistant captains, like junior forward Nick Sirota, sophomore defenseman T.J. Miller and sophomore forward Billy Smith. The true leaders are numerous and fill the roster.

This sense of team unity has helped the Wildcats throughout the year. It helped when they needed to climb out of a 0-7 hole in the conference, it helped after they were on the brink of elimination against Ohio State in the first round of the CCHA Playoffs and Kyle hopes that it will help on the road ahead.

“We’ll certainly have to play from behind again at some point, whether it’s this weekend or-if we’re fortunate enough to advance-after that,” he said. “Whatever the situation is, you have to understand that you’re very much in the game and you can’t stop playing until the whistle.”

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