The NMU hockey team was the surprise team of the CCHA this season, finishing as the sixth seed and then defeating defending national champion Michigan State in the second round.
Looking to surprise yet another conference-foe, the Wildcats took on the No. 1-ranked Michigan Wolverines on Friday in a semifinal game of the CCHA Championships at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. NMU needed to win both their semi-final game with Michigan, as well as the championship game in order to make the NCAA tournament.
“We knew going in to that game, Michigan was going to outshoot us for sure,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “They just have such a high octane offense – they are going to come at you.”
During the game, the prediction of NMU’s head coach was correct, as Michigan outshot NMU 2 to 1, with the Wolverines putting 36 shots toward NMU goaltender Brian Stewart, and the ‘Cats putting 18 shots on Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer. Through the second period, the Wildcats had only five shots on goal – and led the game by a score of 3-2.
“We were pretty anxious,” sophomore defenseman TJ Miller said about the third period. “We were one period away from it, and we all knew it.”
Added senior Matt Siddall: “We were obviously all pumped and it was an amazing feeling in the room. Guys were really positive and everyone was extremely focused on going out in that third period.”
In the third period, though, the Wolverines picked up four goals, the majority of which coming off the bodys’ of either NMU or Michigan players, and Michigan went on to win the game 6-4.
“We didn’t do enough to get it done,” Kyle said after the game. “I thought that, certainly, Michigan made some puck luck tonight. They worked hard.”
“But I think four of the goals went off either them or us,” he added.
During the game’s third period, Michigan scored first – a little over one minute in to the period, on a goal from Tim Miller. The Wolverines scored again almost five minutes later on a power play goal from Travis Turnbull. It was his second goal of the game. Michigan scored twice more – the last coming on an empty-net goal.
“When you give up those important shots to a team of that caliber, things are going to go their way,” Siddall said after the game. “They definitely had some puck luck on their side. 40 shots, and Stewie’s making the stops he needs to make – it’s just tough. It’s tough to swallow – going into the third period like that.”
The loss put NMU in the consolation third-place game against Notre Dame the next night. During the press conference following the Michigan loss, freshman Mark Olver was asked what the team has to play for in the third-place game.
“Pride,” Olver responded. “We want to win.
“It’s our goal every single day to win a game. It would have been nice to play in the championship game, but I think Notre Dame is a very good team and we’re going to come out tomorrow and give it our all. Hopefully – since it’s Matt (Siddall) and Andrew’s (Sarauer) last game – we can get a win for them.”
Against Notre Dame, Olver and the ‘Cats did just that, coming from behind and scoring two third period goals en route to a 2-1 victory.
NMU’s two goals came from Tim Hartung and Matt Siddall. Siddall had two points in the contest and was later named to the all-tournament team.
“It was a tough game for us, and a tough game to get up for emotionally after last night,” Siddall said after the game. “But the guys kind of talked in the room about finishing off the season on a high note and you don’t really get too much of a chance here to finish off your season on a win.”
Following the game, Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said that third-place games were difficult to prepare for.
“It was your typical consolation game. There wasn’t much emotion,” Jackson said. “Why we play these games, I’m not quite sure.”
After the loss, Notre Dame, the No. 12-ranked team in the nation, picked up an NCAA tournament bid the next day.
NMU’s head coach said he was proud of the way his team played, despite Jackson’s comments.
“These guys found a way – and not through us, through themselves – to become a team. It’s not the 20 best guys, it’s the best 20 guys together,” Kyle said after the game. “And these guys found that – and they found a way to grow.”