Coming off of a four-game losing streak and only one goal last weekend, the NMU hockey team was in a dire situation. The Wildcats (13-15-4 overall, 11-11-2 CCHA) needed their offense to capitalize on their opportunities, and they took this mentality to Michigan State. The ’Cats earned a vital sweep on the weekend, their third on the season and first away series sweep.
Head coach Walt Kyle said the team was in a rut and needed to climb out of it.
“We needed to get back to the quality of hockey that we think we’re capable of playing,” Kyle said.
It was also a strategic battle between a retiring legend and his former assistant as Kyle and MSU head coach Rick Comley squared off on their respective whiteboards for one final series. Comley served as head coach and athletic director for NMU, and led the Wildcats to two CCHA championships in 1980 and 1981 as well as the National Championship in 1991, where the ’Cats defeated Boston University 8-7 in three overtimes.
The Friday, Feb. 11 game saw both teams take a bit of time to get the offense going. Junior forward Tyler Gron scored his first goal of four on the weekend at 17:14 in the second period while on the power play, but the Spartans answered back with a power play goal of their own at 19:33. Junior forward Justin Florek and senior forward Nicholas Kosinski earned goals at 6:37 and 9:44 in the third, respectively, before a Spartan scored the extra-man goal at 18:35. The Spartans kept the extra man on the ice, and senior captain Phil Fox punished them with a late empty-netter to take the win, 4-2.
Freshman goaltender Jared Coreau was a brick wall on the evening, stopping 50-52 shots on goal, and Kyle said the win was in no small part due to his effort.
“We’ve just been a team that’s lacked a little bit of confidence, for sure, and I think that on Friday night Coreau was outstanding and kind of gave us someone or something to rally around,” Kyle said. “When you get a win, it brings an attitude and a little bit of a swagger with it, which we were able to get, and it grew from there.”
The second game of the weekend began with an offensive burst for the Spartans. Senior defenseman Erik Spady scored at 12:31 in the first period amid three Spartan goals. The Spartans scored again early in the second, creating a 4-1 deficit. However, Gron reignited the Wildcat offense with goals at 10:10 and 19:15 in the second period and 1:39 in the third. Spartan Jack Chelios, son of retired NHL great Chris Chelios, scored the go-ahead goal at 3:17, but sophomore defender-turned-forward Kyle Follmer (6:47) and junior forward Andrew Cherniwchan (16:31) scored late goals to seal the sweep.
Junior goaltender Reid Ellingson replaced Coreau at 13:23 in the first. Ellingson earned 16 saves in 18 shots on goal. The Wildcats pummeled the Spartan goaltender with 39 shots on goal.
Follmer said the sweep felt great but the team is doing its best to forget about records and focus on the future.
“It’s a good vibe around the locker room, but it’s kind of forgotten now because we need to go get two wins at Bowling Green and anything but two wins would be disappointing,” Follmer said. “It feels like finally things are clicking. We got three, four solid lines right now and we need to win out here.”
The Wildcats travel to Bowling Green, Ohio, to take on the Bowling Green State University Falcons (3-18-3 CCHA, 8-21-3 overall) in their final away series of the regular season.
Kyle said the Wildcats aren’t out of the woods yet; they have to continue winning to improve their spot in the standings and the Falcons won’t be a pushover.
“No matter how poor their record is, one of their wins is against us in this building this year,” Kyle said “They’ve already proven they can have success against us … so we have to take these guys very seriously and show them a lot of respect.”
The Wildcats return home for their final series of the regular season to take on the University of Michigan Wolverines (16-7-1 CCHA, 19-9-4 overall) on Friday and Saturday Feb. 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the Berry Events Center.