Wildcats clinch home ice with sweep

Delaney Lovett

The Wildcats ended their regular season on top with two wins against Lake Superior State University (11-13-4-4 CCHA, 16-15-5 overall) on Friday, Feb. 24 and Saturday, Feb. 25 in the Berry Events Center.

With the sweep, NMU gained home-ice advantage for the first round of playoffs against Bowling Green State University this weekend and improved its record to 11-11-6-3 in the CCHA and 16-12-6 overall.

“I thought we played well,” said head coach Walt Kyle. “The guys understood the significance of the games, and they came out and performed.”

The ’Cats won Friday’s game, 6-2, with each goal from a different player. Redshirt freshman left wing Reed Seckel scored early in the first, but LSSU tied it up by the end of the period.

In the second period, NMU put up three goals: one from senior right wing Tyler Gron, the second from senior left wing Justin Florek and a power-play goal from sophomore center Stephan Vigier.

“We made some adjustments to our power-play and switched a few things around,” said junior defenseman Scott Macaulay. “As the weekend went on, we got more used to it.”

Junior center Matt Thurber scored a shorthanded goal early in the third to put the Wildcats up 5-1. The Lakers scored their second goal of the night before senior right wing Andrew Cherniwchan sealed the win with a sixth goal.

“I thought our energy was up,” Macaulay said. “I think if we go out and we work hard, that’s when we’re playing our best.”

Much like Friday, NMU was first to score on Saturday with Gron’s second goal of the weekend. Lake State came back to tie it up, but the ’Cats regained the lead with a goal from freshman right wing Ryan Daugherty.

Northern Michigan dominated the second period with an even strength goal from freshman defenseman Mitch Jones, and Thurber and junior defenseman Kyle Follmer each scored on the power-play.

In the third period, however, Kyle said the Wildcats got sloppy, letting in an additional even strength and shorthanded Laker goal to finish with a score of 5-3.

“We made a couple of plays the guys know they shouldn’t be making,” Kyle said. “We were getting up and getting ahead. Guys were trying to force plays, and you can’t do that.”

The ’Cats showed the strength of their special teams, killing 10 out of 10 penalties on the weekend. Macaulay finished with one assist on Friday and four on Saturday, earning the title of CCHA defenseman of the week.

Macaulay said he is honored to receive the award, but it relates back to the strong play of the entire Northern Michigan team.

“Picking up a couple assists, it’s making plays to guys who went and put the puck in the net,” Macaulay said. “It’s a compliment to the whole team.”

NMU takes on the Bowling Green Falcons (5-19-4-3 CCHA, 10-21-5 overall) this weekend in the CCHA quarterfinals from the Berry Events Center. In their last matchup in early February, the ’Cats swept the Falcons, but Macaulay said it will be a tough series.

“They battled us for both games,” Macaulay said. “But we can’t help but think about last year in the plays and how they took it to us there.”

The Wildcats will have the chance to redeem themselves this weekend after last year’s disappointing first round loss to the Bowling Green.

“We remember last year; that’s fresh in our minds,” Kyle said. “They’re a very good, competitive team, and we’re going to have our hands full.”

This weekend’s games are scheduled at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 2, Saturday, March 3 and Sunday, March 4. The first team to win two games this weekend will move on to the next round of playoffs.