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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Chloe Everson
Chloe Everson
Sports Editor

Hi! My name is Chloe and I am a fourth-year senior here at NMU. I am a Public Relations major and have always enjoyed sports. I love being outdoors, shopping, and drinking coffee at all hours of the...

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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.

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Women’s spring soccer comes to an end this weekend
Lily Gouin April 19, 2024

Sports Column: Hockey addressed the doubters in ’08

To commemorate the end of the academic school year, The North Wind sports staff compiled their favorite NMU-related sports stories of the year. These three stories illustrate achievements despite great adversity, a high level of sportsmanship and some of the greatest accomplishments in Northern sports history. For those who witnessed these accomplishments, the stories will be remembered for a long time to come.

If NMU hockey continued on the path it was on during the beginning of the 2007-08 season (2-8 with eight-straight losses), the team wouldn’t be a part of any “story of the year” discussions. But, things turned around for the Wildcats, albeit slowly, and that’s why the Northern hockey season was the story of the year.

To start the season, NMU defeated Toronto in an exhibition game, beat rival Michigan Tech and lost 4-0 to UM-Duluth in the Superior Cup. From there, NMU faced the top competition in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA). In the next three series, NMU squared off against the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Miami. NMU lost every game of the stretch.

The University of Michigan finished the regular season as the No. 1 team in the nation, advancing in postseason play to the Frozen Four. At the end of the season, Michigan, Michigan State and Miami all advanced past the first round of the NCAA tournament.

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After NMU’s slow start, head coach Walt Kyle and his team fielded questions on the state of the hockey program, the underperforming recruits and a lack of leadership. The questions were valid if you simply looked at NMU’s record, but with the competition the Wildcats were up against, coupled with the loss of top goal-scorer Mike Santorelli from the previous year, the ‘Cats couldn’t be expected to start the season on top. It would take some time.

Northern then split its series with Western Michigan, and the tide began to turn. NMU would either split or sweep every series, including a split with national championship runner-up Notre Dame–that is, until the now-defunct hockey program of Wayne State came to town. NMU was swept by the lowly Warriors, and questions of the team again came up.

Some wondered what had happened to the once promising youngsters on the hockey team, others blamed the coaching staff for squandering talent. But, three weeks later, all questions were answered when the Wildcats went down to Ann Arbor for a weekend series with the top-ranked Wolverines and tied them twice.

One thing was glaringly obvious at that point: NMU could compete with any team in the nation.

The next weekend, NMU swept defending champion Michigan State at home with scores of 3-1 and 3-0. And the critics went mute.

Leadership in question? Look to senior Matt Siddall, who came into the season with 14 career goals. Siddall would score 18 goals this season alone. What about the youth? NMU placed two players on the CCHA all-freshman team when Erik Gustafsson and Mark Olver each picked up the honor. Gustafsson led the team in plus/minus points (+26) and Olver was the team leader in goals (21) and points (38). What about the coaching staff? Walt Kyle, John Kyle and Rob Facca took a rough start and turned it into motivation for a team that was largely underclassmen.

One more sweep was left for the Wildcats in the regular season, when NMU took two from Nebraska-Omaha at home–and then it was playoff time. It was in the postseason where the ‘Cats truly shined.

For starters, NMU came back from losing the first game of two separate three-game series to advance–twice. And the second series, well it was against Michigan State.

Michigan State was seeded higher than the ‘Cats, coached by former NMU head coach Rick Comley, the game was in East Lansing, and MSU had arguably a better goaltender in Jeff Lerg–a candidate for the Hobey Baker award and eventual second-team all-American. One overtime goal from underclassman Matt Butcher later, and the Wildcats were on to the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit for the CCHA championship.

The first hurdle for the Wildcats was the top-ranked Michigan Wolverines. During the game, NMU led after two periods 3-2 behind spectacular goaltending from Brian Stewart and goals from Siddall, junior Nick Sirota and Butcher. Then things just got crazy. Michigan scored off the legs of NMU players, off of skates and rarely scored without some sort of deflection. NMU got no puck luck–and was still in the game until a final empty-net goal in the waning seconds. The final score read 6-4 in favor of Michigan.

NMU’s head coach praised his team in the post-game press conference, citing Siddall as one of the best people he’s had the opportunity to coach and smiled as he mentioned the way NMU came back from the rough start. He was clearly proud of the team’s accomplishments, and it’s hard to argue with him.

The next day, NMU defeated Notre Dame in the consolation game 2-1. That’s the same Notre Dame team that wouldn’t lose again until they faced 2008 national champions Boston College in the NCAA tournament.

As the ‘Cats left Detroit, with little hope of a postseason berth, there weren’t many questions remaining. Kyle and the ‘Cats had addressed all subjects already over the course of the season. Their resilience will be remembered for years to come.

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