Cats stay hot, sweep No. 19 Nanooks


Sitting in third to last place coming into this past weekend, the NMU hockey team needed points badly.

Its thirst was quenched as the team picked up four points over the visiting University of Alaska Nanooks.

“Right now we need points,” head coach Walt Kyle said. “Points are at a premium and every chance we get to pick some up we have to take.”

In Friday’s game the ‘Cats defense stymied the Nanooks offense, and Brian Stewart did the rest, coming up with 21 saves as Northern shut Alaska out 2-0. Billy Smith and Jared Brown scored the goals for the Wildcats in the opening game.

On Saturday night the teams battled back and forth, with the game ending in a 2-2 tie. Sophomore Mark Olver said the team nearly put the game away in the extra period.

“In overtime we had a good chance, but it hit the goaltender right in the mask,” Olver said.

With the game still at a 2-2 stalemate, the fans were treated to the first home shoot-out – an exciting affair that Northern won two shots to none.

Sophomore Erik Gustafsson scored the second goal of the game and also participated in the shoot-out. Gustafsson said it was an exciting opportunity to win a shoot-out in front of the home crowd.

“It’s always fun to get an opportunity (to have a shoot-out at home), and we’re lucky it worked out for us,” Gustafsson said.

Kyle echoed Gustafsson’s opinion on the shoot-out.

“I originally wasn’t a big fan of the decision to go to a shootout,” Kyle said. “But after witnessing one in your own arena I can see why the fans like it.”

This is the first season the CCHA has gone to a shoot-out to determine the winner of conference games. A game that ends in a shoot-out counts as a tie in the standings, but the winner of the shoot-out receives two points, while the losing team only receives one point.

Injuries have been an issue the team has had to deal with this season, with Stewart, junior Matt Butcher and junior T.J. Miller all missing significant time.

“Guys come in and have to fill in for them, it gives a chance for other players to step in and prove themselves,” Kyle said. “All of our guys here certainly are capable. If we didn’t think they could step up and play, they wouldn’t be here.”

Stewart returned from his injury after the winter break and has a 5-1 record and a 2.16 goals against average in the six games he has played in.

Kyle said he was hopeful that Butcher would be returning to the lineup soon.

“That’s a big focus of ours,” Kyle said. “He’s a great player and we want him out there for us.”

Miller will be out for the remainder of the season.

This weekend the Wildcats travel to Western Michigan to face-off against the Broncos. Western currently sits one point behind Northern in the conference standings.

Kyle said because of the closeness of the CCHA standings this series is particularly important for the team.

“They’re a team we are directly in competition with, the league is very close right now,” Kyle said.

He added that defensive play could be the deal-breaker in the upcoming series.

“They are a very good hockey team, we can’t get into trading scoring chances back and forth, that isn’t how we are going to win.”