I’ll be the first to admit it, Saturday’s hockey game was pretty ugly. Except for J.R. Celski’s horrific accident at the Olympic Speedskating Trials, sitting watching our beloved Wildcats get thrashed by the Bemidji State Beavers was about as unpleasant a sight as I’ve seen in the Berry Events Center.
The series (in which NMU tied the first game and lost the next) didn’t go well, and has prompted some early season grumblings about the team’s potential this year. Fret not, Wildcat fans. Saturday was not as disastrous as it seems, and our young season is far from written off.
Yes, it’s true, the Beavers are members of the College Hockey America, which is possibly the worst conference in college sports. It has produced powerhouses like the Wayne State University hockey team, which unceremoniously swept the Wildcats out of the Berry two years ago. But the Beavers have something which sets them apart from Wayne State. It’s nothing major, it’s just an appearance in last year’s Frozen Four. To get there, Bemidji State steamrolled through Notre Dame (the CCHA tournament champions) and Cornell University, and they return a majority of players from that successful tournament team. In other words, although they come from a less than reputable conference, the Beavers are a quality hockey program.
That fact aside, the ‘Cats were playing shorthanded. I’m not referring to the multitude of penalties they incurred, but rather the absence of All-American defenseman Erik Gustafsson. Gustafsson is a crucial player in the Wildcat’s defense, and missed the series due to a bout of the flu. On the positive side, the ‘Cats came very close to an upset victory on Friday night without him. Good teams can have bad nights, but it isn’t common for bad teams to have luck that allows them to play with quality teams. The Wildcats proved that they do have the talent and ability to hang with the best.
The last few seasons, at some point, people have called into question whether keeping Walt Kyle as a coach is a wise decision for Northern Michigan University. This season the grumblings have come earlier than usual. However, if there is one thing the current coaching staff has shown, it is that they are capable of producing winning teams. In Kyle’s tenure here, he has failed to reach the CCHA semifinals in Detroit only once. Slow starts the last few seasons have ended with dramatic runs deep into the conference playoffs. Now, the young players that carried the team the last two years have matured, and this year’s squad is poised to make the first NCAA appearance since 1991.
Yes, last Saturday was bad, but it isn’t the end of the season.
This weekend will bring the No. 1 Miami Redhawks to town, and we as the Wildcat fan base need to leave coaching and playing decisions in the hands of the coaches and do the only thing asked of us. The best way for us to spur the ‘Cats to success is to pack the Berry for every single home series, cheer every goal, heckle every visiting goalie and boo every penalty.
The season has just begun, and I think we’ll be pleased by what’s in store.