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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Lily Gouin
Lily Gouin
Assistant Sports Editor

Hi! My name is Lily Gouin I am in my third year here at NMU. I am from Appleton, WI majoring in communications and double minoring in multimedia journalism and public relations. In my free time, I like...

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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.

Pizza Cat Vol. 9
Pizza Cat Vol. 9
Deirdre Northrup-Riesterer April 17, 2024

Next stop: The joe

If the NMU hockey team has learned one lesson over the past two years, it is that winning at the right time can make all the difference.

The Wildcats proved this to be true as they upset the third-seeded Miami RedHawks to earn a berth to the CCHA championship weekend where they will face top-seeded Notre Dame on Friday.

This is the second year in a row that the ‘Cats have upset a higher seeded opponent to earn a spot in the final four of the CCHA. Last year the team upset Michigan State en route to a third place CCHA finish.

Head coach Walt Kyle said he was pleased with the way his team played, especially during the Sunday night game.

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“I thought we played well,” Kyle said. “The thing I was most pleased with is that we got better as the series went along. I think that’s really important when you get to the playoffs, that each series and each game you have to improve and I thought our best performance so far was in game three.”

Northern started its series against Miami on a sour note, giving up two goals in the first 20 minutes of the series. Freshman Justin Florek pulled the ‘Cats to within one with a goal at 8:59 in the second period, but it would not be enough, as each team scored once more – NMU lost 3-2.

Sophomore Erik Gustafsson said he thought the team came out flat on Friday night.

“It was a tough start for us. I don’t think we were ready to play on Friday and it really showed,” he said. “Maybe it was the long bus ride, who knows? We finally started playing well in the third (period) and we used that energy to win the next two games.”

The ‘Cats started out Saturday’s game by giving up a goal just over 10 minutes into the first period. However, the ‘Cats answered with goals by sophomore Jared Brown and junior Nick Sirota.

The Wildcats’ lead didn’t last long though, as Miami tied the game less than 30 seconds later. Junior goalie Brian Stewart made 13 saves in the third period to send the game into overtime.

The Wildcats and RedHawks skated through 5:14 of the overtime period before sophomore Gregor Hansen put the game away for the ‘Cats.

On Sunday, Northern got off to a hot start as the Wildcats not only killed a five-minute penalty, but Mark Olver scored a shorthanded goal to give the ‘Cats the 1-0 lead.

Gustafsson said one of the biggest differences in the team’s play was puck control.

“We didn’t turn the puck over. That was where we improved the most from Friday night,” he said.

The ‘Cats extended this lead to 2-0 before RedHawk forward Will Weber notched a goal with under three minutes left in the game. With 35 seconds remaining in the game, Sirota put the icing on the game with his third goal of the series.

Kyle said he thought his team came out strong Sunday.

“It was the first time we took a lead in the series, and I thought we played well,” he said. “In these kind of games there is so much on the line, so it does cause excitement.”

Last week Kyle said one of the keys to victory this past weekend was to maintain offensive pressure against Miami. Even though the Wildcats were outshot 123-67, Kyle said his team applied decent pressure.

“We were able to (apply pressure),” Kyle said. “Game one we weren’t able to, and I thought one of the things we got better at as the series went on was putting pressure on Miami.”

This weekend the Wildcats have another tough challenge against them as they take on No. 1 Notre Dame in the CCHA Quarterfinals. Notre Dame has beaten the Wildcats four times already this season.

“It’s not an easy draw. It’s a team we are fairly familiar with having seen them four times already this season, so that could work in our advantage,” Kyle said. “They’ve been ranked in the top spot – or right up there – all season and we have nothing but respect for their program.”

Sirota, one of the assistant captains for the Wildcats, said the team has focused on not giving up penalties when they play the Irish.

“We need to not take penalties; that’s a concern of ours,” he said. “Last time we played Notre Dame we gave up a ton of power play goals. We need to be playing five-on-five hockey as much as we can Friday.”

The Irish are led by goalie Jordan Pearce, and forwards Erik Condra and Calle Ridderwall. Pearce is currently in third place in the Perani Cup standings. The Perani Cup is awarded to the top player in the CCHA as decided by media members. Both Ritterwall and Condra are averaging just under a point per game.

Kyle said he knows his team needs to play its best in order to overcome the Fighting Irish.

“We can’t go into this game and have sub-par performances,” he said. “This isn’t a game where we will be able to get a win if we aren’t on our game.”

Sirota echoed this sentiment and added that the confidence the team has gained in the first two rounds of the playoffs will help the team.

“We just need to play hard,” he said. “After you go through the playoffs like we have, it gives you a ton of confidence. I think we are playing with more confidence now than we have all year and it is showing in our game.”

One thing Kyle said the team will have to avoid is looking ahead to the championship game or getting distracted by the weekend’s festivities. In addition to the hockey games, this weekend is also the CCHA awards banquet and Fanfest.

“We’re not looking beyond Friday’s game,” Kyle said. “We know we have a championship to play for, so we aren’t even thinking about the NCAA tournament yet. Even being able to compete for a championship would be a huge step for this program.”

Gustafsson agreed.

“It’s a great treat,” he said. “That’s what you aim for all season. And of course it’s a lot of fun and you get treated well, and you get to go to the dinners and banquets, but we know the reason we are there is to play hockey.”

Gustafsson added that this is the year for NMU, and all that is left is to prove it.

“If we can play like we did on Sunday, I like our chances,” he said. “I think this year we can get the championship.”

Friday’s game begins at 4:30 p.m. and is being broadcast live on the Fox Sports Detroit television network. On Saturday, the championship game begins at 8 p.m., with the third place game beginning at 4 p.m.

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