Before the winter vacation, NMU hockey had yet to win an away game without going into a shootout. Over break, however, the ‘Cats found a way to win on the road, winning three out of four games.
NMU (6-13-3 overall, 3-10-3 CCHA) swept the series with the Wisconsin Badgers with a 3-2 win and a 6-5 overtime victory. The following week, NMU split against the third ranked team in the CCHA Nebraska Omaha with game scores of 3-4 and 3-2.
Head coach Walt Kyle said the break from athletics and academics was just what his team needed.
“We needed to get these guys away from hockey and away from each other,” he said. “And they kind of came back refreshed a little bit and that is the single biggest thing.”
Kyle added the ‘Cats came back ready to play and because of this they were able to finally score goals on the road and win close games.
“I think that we were playing really well prior to break and when you lose and you continually lose it is like you have a cloud hanging over you and you just can’t punch through it,” Kyle said. “And we were struggling with that right before Christmas and we got back from Christmas you know you kind of have new feeling about yourself and I think that really helps.”
Now the Wildcat hockey team has a week off before they face one of the surprises of the CCHA: the Alaska Nanooks.
Alaska is coming of the first series of the year where it failed to gain any points in the CCHA after being swept by Notre Dame on the road.
The Nanooks have had a rebuilding season with their first year coach Dallas Ferguson.
But that hasn’t stopped the team to put an 8-5-3 conference record and 13-7-3 overall.
The first reason for Fairbanks’ success is its defense which is backed by the No. 2 goalie in the conference, senior Chad Johnson.
Kyle said the answer to a good defense is another good defense.
“We are going to have to make sure that we take care of business defensively first,” he said. “We have to prepare to win a game that is potentially close, and be prepared to win a game where you don’t score many goals.”
But before the ‘Cats faceoff against the UAF, the Nanooks have a two-game home series with Nebraska Omaha.
Kyle said having the first week of the semester off will also be another helpful break for his club.
“It is a great opportunity for our guys; for one to get their feet on the ground academically, and number two, we kind of use it as a week to enhance our conditioning and go back and work on some fundamentals,” he said.
The series, which will be Jan. 23-24, with both games starting at 7:30 p.m., will be the first home series this semester.
Kyle said, after starting the season 5-8 at home, NMU will be looking to re-establish its home presence.
“I’m anxious to get back at home and I’m looking forward to that,” Kyle said. “I think we have phenomenal fans and the students that are at the game add such energy to it, so I think it’s important that we get back to playing well in front of our home fans.”