’Cats hockey needs tougher schedule

Trevor Pellerite

It may be summer in Marquette, but just because most Wildcat fans are lounging on the beach doesn’t mean it’s too early to start looking forward to the 2010-11 NMU hockey season. The athletic department recently released next season’s schedule, giving fans a look at the lineup of opponents the ’Cats will have to wade through to make another run at the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. The ’Cats look to follow up on a season in which they took a quality shot at the Central Collegiate Hockey Association tournament title and earned their first berth in the national tournament since 1999.

The formula for determining National tournament spots places heavy emphasis on strength of schedule and playing a lineup of quality opponents. Given that fact, it looks unfortunate for the Wildcats that they were placed in a 2010-11 scheduling block with Lake Superior State University, Notre Dame and Bowling Green State University. Last season, this trio sported a combined record of 33-60-19 and an impressive sum total of zero wins in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. Granted, BGSU had an incredibly young team last season, and ND’s bad season stands as something of an anomaly from the past four years, but regardless, the Wildcats better make sure they have their block opponents figured out early, because more than a few losses to these three teams could put a serious damper on their season.

Generally, a team hopes to make up for any weak opponents in conference play by scheduling strong non-conference opponents, and the ’Cats did a good job on this year’s schedule. Non-conference play includes the Superior Cup to open the season, as per usual, and this season is NMU’s turn to host the Michigan Tech Huskies and Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. These matchups are usually great ways to start the season out, for fans and players alike. Additional out-of-conference opponents include the second year of a contract with the Bemidji State University Beavers, against whom the Wildcats can hopefully avenge last year’s 5-0 home blowout. The New Year’s holiday will see the Wildcats venture down to Denver to take on the Pioneers of Denver University. The Pioneers finished last season ranked second in the country and despite laying an egg in the first round of the NCAA tournament, provide formidable opposition year after year. It should be a welcome challenge for the Wildcats, as well as a good indicator of the team’s abilities halfway through the season. The Beavers and Pioneers are both quality teams, and wins against them could do wonders for the Wildcats in terms of national ranking.

Unfortunately, the final two non-conference games are the traditional home-and-home series against Michigan Tech. Oddly enough, no matter how terrible the Huskies are (and make no mistake about it, last year they were absolutely awful) the ’Cats nearly always have trouble with them. In the 2008-09 season, the ’Cats were shutout at home. Last year, games against NMU comprised two of the six contests the Huskies didn’t lose all season. This matchup used to be a fierce rivalry, but for some reason it seems to have lost its luster in recent years. Instead, what the ’Cats are left with each year is a pair of games that are generally pretty boring to watch and hold the potential to destroy their national standing. It’s time for a new series. It would be nice if the NMU athletic department could entice an east coast opponent over to Marquette. Even the University of Robert Morris would provide some welcome variation. Until then, however, the Wildcats will need to make sure that they take care of the business at hand.

Given their mix of opponents this upcoming season, the biggest thing will be making sure not to slip up and lose to some of the lower quality opponents they face multiple times. The ’Cats lost some quality players after last season, but the core of returning veterans should prove up to the task of filling in this season. Combine them with an extremely talented incoming rookie class, and the Wildcats could easily find themselves back in the Natio