If you watched the hockey games this weekend, it would be easy to think that different groups of athletes showed up on each night. The team that tied No. 15 Bemidji State University 3-3 on Friday came out and got pounded 5-0 the very next evening.
The Wildcats began with energy on Friday night and needed only a minute and a half of game time to get on the scoreboard. Captain Billy Smith found the back of the net with help from Mark Olver, and the ‘Cats would not trail for the rest of the game.
Goals from Ray Kaunisto and Justin Florek earned the Wildcats a 3-2 lead going into the final minute of play, but the Beavers’ desperation proved too much, as BSU sent the game-tying goal past Wildcat goalie Brian Stewart with only 10 seconds left in regulation. No one scored in overtime, and the game ended as a tie.
“Friday was a good game,” said NMU head coach Walt Kyle. “We played hard Friday. I have no problem with Friday’s effort at all.”
Saturday’s game went very differently for the ‘Cats.
The Beavers scored three minutes into the first period, forcing a turnover on a penalty kill and beating Stewart for a short handed goal. The Beavers didn’t look back, adding another goal in the first, one in the second, and a final pair in the third period for a 5-0 victory.
Stewart allowed four goals in Saturday’s contest before being pulled to give sophomore Reid Ellingson playing time.
“Somehow, I’ve got to find my game,” Stewart said. “I should have made some saves I didn’t. I’m not playing the way I should be, that’s the way it is.”
Kyle said the ‘Cats began to falter mentally early on in the game.
“We fell behind early on some bad breaks,” Kyle said. The ‘Cats gave up their third goal less than a minute into the second period. “From that point on, I thought we were really bad.”
Saturday marked the first time NMU has been shut out in the Berry since Dec. 20 of 2008, and is the worst margin of defeat since Oct. 10 of last season.
“I wasn’t happy with the leadership,” Kyle said. “Those are situations where the veteran guys have to be able to take the bull by the horns and say ‘OK, let’s get turned in the right direction here.’ We weren’t able to do that.”
The ‘Cats scored one goal on 10 powerplays and killed off 11 of their 13 penalties. The lone powerplay marker came from Kaunisto on a deflection while he was crashing the net.
Despite the goal on Friday, Kyle was not especially satisfied with the play of his special teams either night.
“The powerplay was not good, I didn’t think it was good either night,” Kyle said. He went on to explain that Kaunisto’s goal didn’t reflect the team’s powerplay performance. “It wasn’t a powerplay goal off a designed play. If he tried to do it, he couldn’t do it again.”
The Wildcats have had a rash of illness and absences that contributed to their powerplay woes. All-American defenseman Erik Gustafsson missed the series with the flu, and Greger Hanson had to leave the game during the first period and did not return. Additionally, Andrew Cherniwchan was taken out with a game misconduct for checking from behind. These losses left big holes on the first line special teams.
Their absence on Friday forced Kyle to give extra playing time to the rest of his team, contributing to the fatigue they felt on Saturday.
“We were running three lines for quite a bit, that really wore us down,” said Olver. “Bemidji is a very fast team, and very competitive and they play the body very well.”
Both Hanson and Gustafsson are expected to return to practice this week.
The Wildcats will need to be at the top of their game to have success this coming weekend, when they will host the No. 1 Miami Redhawks (4-1-1). Any time a top ranked team comes to town it is significant, but Kyle expects the game to be especially intense for other reasons. Last season, the Wildcats defeated the Redhawks in Oxford, Ohio during the second round of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
“They’re probably a bit loaded for us right now,” Kyle said. “This is going to be a big challenge. We haven’t shown, based on what I’ve seen, that we’re capable of playing with the No. 1 team in the country right now, but we’re going to find that out.”
Olver thinks special teams will be key against the Redhawks.
“We need to have a very good penalty kill this week, they’re a very high offensive team. They have a very good powerplay,” he said. “I think we need to build up our work ethic a little more, too. [Our] work ethic last weekend was pretty terrible.”
The series against Miami will also mark the beginning of official CCHA league play.
The puck will drop both nights at 7:35 p.m.