In an unbalanced battle on the ice, the Wildcats came away from their series against Miami (11-9-2-1 CCHA, 15-11-2 overall) in Oxford, Ohio with a 2-1 win on Friday, Jan. 28 and a shutout loss of 6-0 the following night.
The ’Cats (7-8-5-2 CCHA, 12-9-5 overall) were outshot both Friday and Saturday night by the RedHawks, 41-13, and 40-16, respectively.
“To be honest, I don’t think we had our best two games,” said senior right wing Tyler Gron. “We were lucky enough to sneak out a win there Friday, but they just played a little harder than we did and they wanted it more than we did.”
The two NMU goals on Friday came from senior left wing Justin Florek and Gron, both in the first period. Assisting Florek’s goal were sophomore right wing Erik Higby and sophomore defenseman Wade Epp. Gron’s goal was set up by junior center Matt Thurber and junior defenseman Kyle Follmer.
“I think we were fortunate Friday,” head coach Walt Kyle said. “We had some opportunistic scoring, and we had great goaltending, and that was the reason we won the game.”
Sophomore goaltender Jared Coreau stood tall in the net Friday, letting just one of 41 Miami shots past him in the third period.
On Saturday, Northern was able to hold a much-improved Miami team to one goal in each of the first two periods.
“I thought we played better through about a period and a half on Saturday,” Kyle said. “They had the lead, but it was a much more even game.”
Gron said the RedHawks played with much more intensity on Saturday night, and it was difficult to slow down their momentum.
“They were hitting, we weren’t getting the puck deep and we couldn’t get it out of our zone for a while,” Gron said. “We have to be used to playing teams like that if we want to win in the future.”
Kyle said the Miami goal that really hurt the Wildcats on Saturday was at the beginning of the third period.
“We took a penalty late in the second after the time expired,” Kyle said. “We had to go out and kill that in the third, and that goal kind of put the dagger in our heart.”
Miami scored another four goals in the third period, shutting out the Wildcats. Senior goaltender Reid Ellingson saw his first action since the Michigan State series when he replaced Coreau after the fourth RedHawk goal.
“I thought throughout the game and especially in the first and second period of Saturday night’s game, we had chances to score,” Follmer said. “We did generate some offense, but obviously not as much as we needed to.”
When Northern last faced the RedHawks in December, it was a sweep for the Wildcats at home. Miami has improved significantly since their last series, Kyle said.
“A couple of their really good young players hadn’t yet had enough games,” Kyle said. “They have a much different team and, having said that, I didn’t think we played as efficiently as we needed to.”
With the Miami series concluding a five-game road trip, the ’Cats return to the Berry Events Center this weekend to take on Ferris State University (11-6-3-1 CCHA, 17-8-3 overall).
The No. 6 Bulldogs are ranked just behind Northern in CCHA penalty minutes, so Gron said there is a chance that it will turn into a special teams game.
“We’re just going to have to play smart and keep our sticks off of guys,” Follmer said. “We want to play our game in control of tempo and have them get into penalty trouble.”
Kyle said being able to feed off the energy of Wildcat fans has changed a number of games for NMU and urged students to attend the games at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 3 and Saturday, Feb. 4.
“We’re certainly going to have to play better than we just did,” Kyle said. “Our guys understand the significance of the series, and I’m sure we’ll be ready to play.”