In the 10 two-game series played by the NMU hockey team since Oct. 22, the team has split seven times. The Wildcats have only swept Ohio State, but only two teams have swept the ’Cats: No. 7 Miami, and No. 11 Notre Dame.
Head coach Walt Kyle said that taking on multiple ranked teams during the break was a tall order, but also that it showed where the Wildcats (9-11-4 overall, 7-7-2 CCHA) are as a team.
“Those teams really stretch you and make you expose your weaknesses, and as a coach it gives you a good marker as to what you need to do to become a better team,” Kyle said.
The Wildcats earned a victory at Notre Dame on Dec. 11, winning 3-2, but lost the following day, 2-5. Before their holiday break, the Wildcats took a 6-2 victory from Michigan Tech. Senior forward Greger Hanson said it’s always a tough match against Tech, but it makes the win sweeter.
“We’ve been struggling against Tech the last three years I’ve been here, so it was good to get a win and go into the break with the momentum on our side,” Hanson said.
The Wildcats rang in the New Year with a series against No. 6 Denver with a 2-5 loss on Dec. 31, and a 2-2 tie on Jan. 1.
Kyle said the early-break win against the Irish and the tie against Denver were nice to get, but that the Wildcats didn’t actually play what he would consider good games.
“I think we were able to get a win and a tie only because of our goaltending. And we have to make some strong improvements between now and the end of the year if we’re going to have success against those teams in the playoffs,” Kyle said.
The ’Cats hosted Notre Dame on Friday, Jan. 7, and Saturday Jan. 8 but failed to come away with a victory in either game. The Friday game started with a Wildcat goal from senior forward Mike Maltese at 7:24 in the first, but the game went downhill from there. The Wildcats failed to score again, and the Irish offense seemed unstoppable with two short-handed goals, two power play goals and four even goals for a loss, 8-1.
Hanson said a loss like that is one that no team ever wants to go through, but that it’s necessary to bounce back.
“It’s such a bad feeling to see the game get away from us like that. Maybe we can get stronger from it and learn some things from it,” Hanson said.
The game on Saturday, Jan. 8 was still a 3-1 loss for the Wildcats, but the team held Notre Dame to 20 shots on goal (SOG), and had 25 of their own. The Irish have an average of 33.9 shots per game and had 43 SOG the night before.
The Wildcats have some time to recuperate from the sweep as they take a bye before hosting the No. 20 Ferris State Bulldogs on Jan. 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m. in the Berry Events Center.
Kyle said the bye week could not have come at a better time.
“I think it’s a pretty good time to have a bye based on the past performances it’s going to be good to not have that pressure to win,” Kyle said.
Winter break scores
Dec. 17 – Michigan Tech 2, Northern Michigan 6
Dec. 31 – Northern Michigan 2, Denver 5
Jan. 1 – Northern Michigan 2, Denver 2
Jan. 7 – Notre Dame 8, Northern Michigan 1
Jan. 8 – Notre Dame 3, Northern Michigan 1