‘Cats beat OSU for first conference win


The NMU Wildcat hockey team earned their first conference win last weekend in Columbus, splitting their series against the hosting Ohio State Buckeyes.

The ‘Cats earned a 1-0 shutout on Friday night before falling in a high-scoring 5-4 game on Saturday.

“Ohio State’s a good team, they have very good talent. We had a very good game on Friday night, I thought we had the better of the play,” said head coach Walt Kyle. He was especially pleased to get a win on the road. “[It’s] always difficult to win on the road. What I liked is that we won Friday, we put ourselves in the position to potentially get two, we weren’t able to do it but I didn’t mind the play at all.”

After the series, the Wildcats improve to 2-5-1 overall, 1-3 in Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) play, while the Buckeyes are 3-6-1 overall, 2-3-1-1 CCHA.

The ‘Cats got the only lead they needed just 22 seconds into Friday’s contest, when junior forward Mark Olver found the back of the net with help from junior forward Phil Fox. Sophomore goalie Reid Ellingson helped preserve the one-goal lead, earning his first collegiate shutout.

“Reid was exceptional on Friday, he was solid on Saturday, that was good,” Kyle said. “I think Reid’s played well, I don’t have any problem with what he’s done. He’s given me confidence in playing him.”

Saturday’s contest provided more goals, but despite holding a 4-3 lead in the third period, they were unable to finish out.
Each of NMU’s four goals on Saturday was scored by a different skater, providing offensive depth that the ‘Cats have lacked so far this season. Billy Smith, Olver, Tyler Gron and Andrew Cherniwchan all contributed goals. Gron added an assist later in Saturday’s game for his second point of the year.

One Wildcat who hadn’t found the score sheet before Friday was Fox. He was one of NMU’s biggest offensive threats last season, tallying 18 points off 11 goals and seven assists. He added an assist in both games against OSU for his first two points this season.

“It helps, but I’m still not happy,” Fox said. “I want to score goals and I want to contribute more to help the team. Yeah, it’s nice to get those first two points out of the way, but there’s definitely more room for improvement, and I’ve got my work cut out for me.”

The line of Olver, Fox and Justin Florek has been NMU’s primary offensive producer so far.

“Justin’s a big body, he takes up a lot of space and creates opportunities,” said Fox. “[Mark] is one of the best players I’ve ever played with, he makes plays, finds me everywhere I am. I’m really happy playing with the two of them.”

NMU’s special teams performed solidly throughout the weekend, converting on two of seven power play opportunities and killing every one of OSU’s power play chances.
Saturday’s game was the third one-goal loss in NMU’s young season, and Kyle is trying to prevent any more of them from occurring.

“We have to find a way to win those games. It’s something we actually talked about on Friday,” Kyle said. “We talked about having to put ourselves in position to win close games and then finish the deal. That’s something we’re aware of, something that at the end of the day does become a real key factor in your season.”

Up next for the ‘Cats is a road trip to South Bend, Ind. to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-4-1 overall, 2-1-1 CCHA). They will need to continue their excellent special teams play if they are to have success, as ND currently sports a 21.1 percent power play success rate.

“They’re really, really good,” Kyle said. “We struggled with them a year ago. They ate us up in their building on the power play last year. We certainly gained a lot of respect for that team. We’re going to take it one game at a time.

Last year, the Wildcats lost all five of their matchups against the Irish, including a 9-5 defeat in South Bend and a 2-1 heartbreaker in the CCHA semifinals.

“They have the talent to step on you quick, you have to understand that and play accordingly. Right now, we need to get some conference wins, that’s really important for us,” Kyle said.
Kyle is unsure who will start in goal each night. Despite Ellingson’s strong performances, Kyle is confident that senior Brian Stewart will once again get playing time. Stewart has not played since being pulled against Miami on Oct. 30.

“Stewie’s capable of being special,” Kyle said. “We know what he’s capable of, he’s got to rise up and get back to that level, and we have full confidence he will. The only way to see it is to get him in.”

After the South Bend road trip, the ‘Cats will return to the Berry Events Center for a home series against the Mavericks from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.