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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Molly Birch
Molly Birch

My name is Molly, and I am in my second year at NMU. I come from Midland, MI, probably one of the most boring places on earth. However, we do have the only Tridge in the world, so that’s pretty nifty...

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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

Game on

In the first two games of the Wildcat hockey regular season, the ‘Cats came away with a split: one big win, 5-2, against their rival Michigan Tech on Friday, and one big loss, 5-0, to the University of Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday.

This weekend, after the emotional win Friday night and the mental breakdowns of Saturday, the Wildcats go up against the No. 2 team in the College Sports XXL poll, the University of Michigan Wolverines.

“Hail to the Victors”

“We’re playing, arguably, the most talented team that we will play all season long,” head coach Walt Kyle said. “And we had better bring our ‘A’ game if we want to win these games. We’ve got to show up, and we’ve got to compete, and we’ve got to take care of the puck and (starting goaltender Brian) Stewart’s going to have to be good — all those things are going to have to come together, or we’re not going to have success.”

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This Friday’s game will be the first between the two teams since Michigan defeated Northern at the CCHA Championships last year in Detroit 6-4. Northern failed to defeat the Wolverines last year, losing twice at home, and tying twice in Ann Arbor in addition to the loss at Joe Louis Arena.

At the Joe, Northern battled back and tied the heavily-favored Wolverines 4-4 with eight minutes left in the third period, only to drop two goals — one an empty-netter — en route to the loss that knocked NMU out of NCAA tournament contention.

That CCHA semifinal loss was difficult for the Wildcats to stomach, with the Wolverines picking up goals off of skates and off NMU players, and the final score is something the returning ‘Cats haven’t forgotten.

“A lot of people know that score actually,” junior defenseman TJ Miller said. “Just around campus, everybody’s talking about that game already. It was a tough loss for us, just because we had so many goals go off of us, and it’s a tough way to end your year.

“We are looking for a little bit of payback; they ended our season twice in a row now,” he said. “We’ve just got to stay focused.”

Added junior defenseman Al Dorich: “It was a game we felt we could win. When you’re that close, you want to be able to put it away. There’s a little bit of a grudge match there.”

Michigan (2-0-0) comes into the Berry having lost three defensemen to injury in the last week. Included in the Michigan losses are junior Steve Kampfer, who led the team with a +6 plus/minus rating before being hospitalized in an off-ice incident Saturday night, and senior captain Mark Mitera, who suffered a severe knee injury in Michigan’s Friday night win against St. Lawrence.

Against NMU, the Wolverines will be starting only one defenseman with more than a season of experience.

Kyle said, regardless of injury, the Wolverines will have a talented team on the ice this weekend.

“They can lose guys early and they just fill someone else in,” Kyle said. “You’re always going to be playing against high-end, very, very talented players.

“You have to respect that — you don’t have to be afraid of that, but you have to respect it. Where you maybe play some teams and they can’t hurt you if you give them an odd man rush, Michigan will hurt you if you give them an odd man rush. It doesn’t take many plays to take yourself out of the game when you play against them.”

The Wolverines will reportedly be splitting time in goal over the weekend, with starts split between CCHA preseason all-conference second team member, senior Billy Sauer, and sophomore Bryan Hogan. Sauer brings in a .903 save percentage and Hogan sports a .833 percentage.

For NMU, it’ll be junior goaltender Brian Stewart between the pipes. Stewart is coming off a tough opening weekend, where he allowed seven goals in two games. His current save percentage is .883, having turned away 53 of the 60 shots he’s faced.

Last year, the Wildcats started the same way as the current season, winning their first game and dropping their next. Last year, after winning the season opener, the Wildcats went on to drop their next eight games.

“We don’t want things to continue like last year, because it’s the same setup as it was going into Michigan last year,” Stewart said. “But, we know what to expect from Michigan. It’s going to be a battle. They’re going to be one of the fastest teams and one of the best teams we play all year.”

Special teams needs

If the Wildcats want to come out of the weekend successful, they will have to address their concerns on special teams. On Saturday against UM-D, The ‘Cats gave up two power play goals in the third period, while NMU went 0-7 on power play opportunities.

NMU’s head coach said the team needs to rectify the problems they had during that game before they hit the ice against Michigan.

“I thought that we just tried to force things that weren’t there (on Saturday),” Kyle said. “When you’re on the power play, you take what they give you, and we didn’t. And when the power play starts, you’ve got to take your game up. You’ve got a chance to score there and you’ve got to take your game up, and we did not.”

Senior forward Nick Sirota, the team’s second-leading returner in goals and honorable mention nominee for CCHA preseason all-conference, said that during the third period against UM-D, the team was anxious to score, and that led to mistakes.

“We didn’t look for the passes that we should have looked for, and I think we got a little impatient,” he said. “Just because the score was 2-0, the guys on the ice, the guys on the power play — which was me, (sophomore forward) Mark (Olver), [sophomore forward Jared Brown] and [sophomore defenseman Erik Gustafsson] — we kind of got a little impatient, and we kind of forced passes.

“But I think we learned something from that game,” he added. “And I think we have a lot to prove against Michigan this weekend.”

Neither Sirota nor CCHA preseason all-conference second team honoree Olver have a point yet this season.

“I think it would be key for one of us to get going,” Sirota said. “I think once me and [Olver] get firing on all cylinders, and all four of our lines are playing our systems well and everyone’s playing well, I think we have a better shot than anybody to win.”

Still early in the season, the freshmen on Northern’s team are in the process of learning the team systems. Junior forward Billy Smith said the Wildcats can beat Michigan, but that it’s going to be important to play within Walt Kyle’s systems in order to do so.

“We’re going to have to execute our systems and play within ourselves, and not try to basically go out and have guys trying to go one-on-one,” Smith said. “A skilled offense and defense like that, it’s just not going to work against a team like Michigan.”

Team captain and senior forward Tim Hartung said that though the score of last year’s game sticks with him, both universities will have different teams on the Berry Events Center ice, and the Wildcats will have to be prepared.

“Whenever you play Michigan, if you can’t get up for that game, you shouldn’t be playing,” Hartung said. “They’re always the best, and you’ve got to be at the top of your game no matter what, or they’ll embarrass you.”

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