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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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Caden Sierra
Caden Sierra
Sports Writer

Hey. My name is Caden and I'm from the Chicagoland area.  I'm currently going into my 3rd year at NMU.  I'm a multimedia production major with a double minor in journalism and criminal justice. For as...

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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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Hockey set to begin with exhibition

The NMU hockey team will be kicking off the regular season this weekend with a non-conference game against an opponent from Ontario, Canada, as the Wildcats look to rebuild from the loss of multiple starters.

Head coach Walt Kyle said the team suffered substantial losses to the roster, starting with the man in pads.

“We lost Brian Stewart our goaltender who was a starter for three years and essentially our best guy at that position,” Kyle said.

Stewart’s goal against average (GAA) was 2.43 with 1,099 saves. His career save percentage of .922 ties for fifth place in the CCHA all time records. He is currently playing for the Adirondack Flyers, the AHL minor affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers.

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Kyle said the goalie is the backbone of the Wildcats because they cannot win without good goaltending.

Gregor Hansen is the leading returning points scorer, having earned 38 points during the 2009-2010 season with 16 goals and 22 assists. // File Photo/NW

The apparent starter is junior goalie Reid Ellingson, who played in 11 games with a GAA of 2.33 and a save percentage of .919 in 159 saves. However, Kyle said the position has to be earned, and there is also freshman Jared Coreau to consider.

“Ellingson’s had an opportunity to get his feet wet, he showed that he was capable, and now he, or Coreau, are going to have step forward in a much more impact position,” he said.

Coreau previously played for the Lincoln Stars, a junior ice hockey team in the United States Hockey League, the highest level league for players under 20. The 6-foot-5-inch goalie had a save percentage of .882 in 38 games played with a 3.62 GAA.

Ellingson said he welcomes the competition as a way to make sure he’s improving personally.

“That’s what drives you and that’s what makes you better. Nothing’s set in stone. It’s good for the team,” Ellingson said.

On the defensive side Kyle said the team also needs new defensemen to step up.

“We lost our top three defensemen, (TJ) Miller and (Alan) Dorich, who were both seniors, and Erik Gustaffson was a junior All-American who signed with Philadelphia,” he said.

Gustaffson was 18th in all-time career assists by a defenseman in the CCHA with 68 assists in three years.

The offense has lost some depth as well. Mark Olver, the leading goals (19) and points (49) scorer, and Ray Kaunisto, the team’s best plus/minus player (+19), have both graduated. Kyle said they were two great forwards, but that the Wildcats as a college team anticipated the departure of their athletes.

“We have a lot of holes to fill, but I think any time you have an NCAA team that makes the NCAA field, usually it’s led by upperclassmen and you expect to lose guys,” he said.

Returning players include Justin Florek, who was third in points scored with 35 (12 goals, 23 assists) and Gregor Hansen, the second most points (38) and third most goals scorer (16), who said he wants to pass on his knowledge to his teammates.

“I should be able to know all the systems going into the season, help people realize how we play here and just try to be a leader and prove I can,” Hansen said.

The Wildcats have chosen a captain, fifth-year senior Phil Fox, who Kyle said is right for the job.

“He’s always been a guy who’s stood for the things that we think are right and important,” Kyle said. “I have a lot of respect for him. He’s done a great job to this point.”

Kyle said one of those important things includes aggressive but intelligent play on the forecheck. The forecheck occurs when the Wildcats are in their offensive zone but the opponent has the puck, meaning that opponents are in their own defensive zone.

Kyle also said that hockey is dynamic, and that there aren’t always static strategies used like in other sports.

“Hockey’s a real read-and-react game and you have to hunt down loose pucks after shots and on the forecheck,” he said. “You have to have strong presses at the net to be effective offensively, and we expect all our guys to do that.”

Hansen agreed and said that hockey at its core is about overpowering the opponent with speed and accuracy.

“We have to play good defense first of all, and then capitalize on the opponent’s mistakes,” Hansen said. “Always work harder than the other team, that’s one of the staples during the years that I’ve been here, and we have to continue to do that to find success.”

The Wildcats will be hosting an exhibition game against the Nipissing University Lakers, from North Bay, Ontario, Canada, on Sunday, Oct. 3 at 2 p.m. in the Berry Events Center.

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