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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.

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Amelia KashianFebruary 22, 2024

Hockey Heartbreak: NMU falls in 2OT

The postseason run of the NMU hockey team has finally come to an end. The Wildcats lost their first round game of the NCAA National Tournament on Friday, March 26 to the St. Cloud State University Huskies. The two teams needed extra frames to decide an outcome, but the ’Cats ultimately fell 4-3 in double overtime. Their final overall record ended at 20-13-8.

“We played very well. I thought that we had our opportunities to win it and didn’t get it done, but it wasn’t because we left anything on the table,” said head coach Walt Kyle.

The ’Cats played from behind for nearly the entirety of regulation, as twice they faced two-goal deficits, and battled back twice.

Junior Wildcat defenseman Erik Spady, shown here in a home game earlier this season, scored his first goal in the NCAA tournament last weekend to tie the game and send it to overtime. // File Photo/NW

“We were real resilient. We got down a goal, we didn’t panic, we just continued to play,” Kyle said. “Give the guys a lot of credit, because that’s not an easy thing to do.”

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The ’Cats picked up a goal in every regulation period. Contributors were sophomore Justin Florek, senior Ray Kaunisto and sophomore Erik Spady. Spady thought that Kaunisto’s goal was the catalyst for NMU’s comeback.

“That put us right back in the hunt,” he said. “It kind of put them back on their heels, and the game wasn’t out of our hands.”

Kyle felt that Kaunisto has been able to spur the ’Cats into action this year whenever they’ve needed it.

“I think that that line, and in particular Ray, was our best line through the playoffs, and I thought that Ray was our best forward through the playoffs,” Kyle said. “Several times through the course of the playoffs, he was able to pick us up when we were down a little bit, and reenergize us, and I thought he did in that game.”

The Wildcats were outshot 17-6 in the first frame, but closed the door on the Huskies after that, allowing just six and eight shots in the second and third periods, respectively.

Spady’s goal came with less than four minutes left in the game. It tied the game at 3-3 and was Spady’s first tally of the season.

“It was crazy, we were almost down and out, and when we got that third goal and tied it up, everyone was just so focused and so ready. It didn’t work out, but it was a good play by Mark (Olver) and the other guys on the ice. There was so much traffic out front, it just kind of found its way in,” Spady said.

Kyle thought that Spady had a very good game, especially since he had to step into a more prominent role due to personnel problems.

“He played really well. We went into that game, we were very banged up on defense,” Kyle said, explaining that he had to switch some players around. “Spady jumped into his spot, and played very well. He was very solid, he played very good in a big game.”

According to Kyle, the team felt that after Kaunisto’s second period goal it felt like only a matter of time before the ’Cats tied the game.

“I thought the rest of the way, five on five, we were the better team,” Kyle said. “We looked great. Both goalies were great. That was, in my opinion, the only way we weren’t going to tie it up, was if (St. Cloud goalie Mike Lee) stopped us.” Lee finished the game with 42 saves, and NMU’s goalie Brian Stewart ended with 50.

The ’Cats were outshot in the first overtime period 22-12, and both teams missed on clean breakaway opportunities. NMU successfully killed one penalty but were assessed another as time ran out, which Kyle said took away a lot of momentum.

It took only 23 seconds of the second overtime for the Huskies to put the game winner in the back of the net. St. Cloud’s Tony Mosey redirected a centering pass past NMU’s senior goaltender Brian Stewart. It was the third powerplay goal allowed by the Wildcats, which Kyle believed was a huge aspect of the game.

“They beat us in the special teams in that game. You’re not going to give up three powerplay goals and win very many games,” he said.

According to Spady, losing a close game in overtime isn’t any easier to handle than any other game.

“I don’t think it makes it any easier at all. Overtime is … a rollercoaster,” he said. “Your heart’s up, your heart’s down, it was a really, really tough loss.”

Although it was an emotional defeat, Kyle said that his team understood that games like that happen in the tournament.

“When I was in pro hockey, it was a seven game series. This is one game, now it’s one shot,” he said. “It’s always heartbreaking, especially when you get that far. But, when you play that close and that tight a game, guys know that it is what it is.”

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