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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.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

Wildcats take second in CCHA tourney

The good news is that the Wildcats finally made it to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) conference title game.

The bad news is that they didn’t win that game. After an intense 5-4 overtime victory against the Ferris State Bulldogs in the semifinals, the ’Cats fell 2-1 to the Michigan Wolverines, good enough for second place in the conference tournament. It was NMU’s third consecutive appearance at the semifinals in Detroit, and the first time they avoided the third place consolation game.

“I thought we played well. You don’t get to that point without having your team playing well, and you don’t win games down there without playing well,” said head coach Walt Kyle.

NMU junior forward Greger Hanson takes the puck up ice in the CCHA finals against the University of Michigan. Hanson scored the game winning goal in overtime the night before against Ferris State. // Trevor Pellerite / NW

The ’Cats earned their spot in the championship game by beating the Ferris State University Bulldogs in overtime in the semifinal match on Friday, March 19. After giving up a goal in the first period, the ’Cats came out firing in the second frame.

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Senior Ray Kaunisto got the offense started at the 11 minute mark, following up on a wraparound attempt to put NMU on the board and open the offensive floodgates. Sophomore Andrew Cherniwchan scored 41 seconds later, and Kaunisto found the back of the net another 19 seconds after that. It was three Wildcat goals in 62 seconds, and set the record for the fastest three goals in the CCHA championship tournament by over a minute.

The Bulldogs closed on a 4-2 Wildcat lead in the third period, tallying two goals of their own in 59 seconds to pull even.

“It kinda hit us pretty hard in the gut. It was kinda like, ‘Oh man, this isn’t really happening.’ We didn’t want a heartbreaker game,” Kaunisto said. “It was kinda scary.”

The ’Cats regrouped enough to survive the end of regulation, and then Greger Hanson ended the affair just over a minute into the extra session. Despite blowing a late lead, Kyle said he wasn’t concerned about his team’s ability to bounce back.

“I think we have pretty good leadership … it’s a pretty battle tested group; I think they’ve been in big games before. I don’t even remember what I said (in the locker room), but it probably wasn’t a ton,” he said.

Friday’s other semifinal match between Michigan and Miami University of Ohio was dominated by the Wolverines as they trounced the top-seed Redhawks 5-1. Miami’s goaltender Cody Reichard was recently named the CCHA Player of the Year, and was chased from the crease by a powerful Wolverine offense. Despite watching one of the top goaltenders in the nation be shredded by the next day’s opponent, NMU goalie Brian Stewart wasn’t shaken.

“I know all these goalies and all these players, and stuff happens during games,” he said.

The ’Cats put on a stronger show against the Wolverines than the Redhawks did, but ultimately fell 2-1.

“I think Michigan’s one of the best teams in the country right now, I would predict that they get out (of their region) and go to the final four,” Kyle said. “To win that game, we were going to have to be a little bit opportunistic, and we weren’t. You would like to have a different outcome, but the effort was certainly there both nights.”

Kaunisto had a different view of the game, however.

“I think we just didn’t match their intensity,” he said. “They wanted it more.”

Cherniwchan scored the lone goal for the Wildcats halfway through the third period. Stewart finished the game with 33 saves.

Although they came up just short in the conference finals, NMU’s strong play through the postseason and regular season was enough to earn them a berth in the NCAA National tournament. Their final ranking of 10th place got them a No. 3 seed in the tournament, and the ’Cats will travel to St. Paul, Minn. to face the St. Cloud State University Huskies (23-15-5). The Huskies and ’Cats have faced each other many times over the years, hailing back to NMU’s days in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The Huskies hold a slight series advantage at 20-15-1. The Wildcats lost the last time the teams faced off in 2005 by a 3-2 overtime score.

Although this year will be SCSU’s eighth time in the National tournament, they are 0-7 in tournament games. Kyle said that doesn’t matter this year, however.

“Every year, each team stands alone. This St. Cloud team doesn’t have anything to do with last year’s or four years ago,” Kyle said, noting that the regional game will take place just a few hours away from St. Cloud, Minn. “They have the huge home ice advantage, we’re going to have everything we can do to get by them, and right now that’s our total focus.”

The Huskies have two strong forwards in junior Garrett Roe and senior Ryan Lasch, both of whom have tallied 46 points on 19 goals and 27 assists this year. Couple them with a supporting cast of strong defensemen, and Kyle knows the ’Cats will have their hands full.

“This will not be a very high scoring game, we’ll have trouble if it is. I’m anxious to see where it goes,” he said.

Also in the Western region are the Vermont Catamounts (17-14-7) and the Wisconsin Badgers (25-10-4)
Faceoff time for the regional semifinals is at 5:30 p.m. EST. If the Wildcats advance, they will play in the regional final at 9:00 p.m. EST on Saturday, March 27.

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