Hockey season opens with exhibition games

Katie Bultman

The ’Cats open the 2013-14 season with exhibition games against two top competitors Saturday, Oct. 5 and Sunday, Oct. 6.

The first is against the U.S. National U-18 team at 7:07 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5 in the Berry Events Center.

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Head coach Walt Kyle, who has led NMU to six 20-win seasons and seven CCHA Tournaments, said the U.S. National team builds future NHL players, and this year will be no different.

After the Wildcats finished last season with a 15-19-4 record, Kyle said the men are ready for the new hockey season to begin, starting with the competition of the U-18 team.

“It’s a national team; it’s the best Under-18 team in the country, and we’re excited to get going,” Kyle said. “When you don’t have the kind of year you want, it makes it a long summer, so we’re anxious to get going.”

The ’Cats ended their 2012-13 season in the first round of playoffs to the University of Michigan.

In 2012 NMU only played one exhibition game Sunday, Oct. 7 versus Brock University. They shut out the Badgers, 2-0.

The U.S. National U-18 exhibition game opens the 2013 season for the Wildcats. This will be the 17th season for the national development team based in Ann Arbor, Mich. The team has a 50-plus game schedule, which is set to include opponents such as United States Hockey League teams, NCAA Division I and III schools, and three international opponents.

Wildcat assistant captain, senior forward Stephan Vigier, said the Under-18 team is going to bring tough competition.

“The U.S. development team is going to be good,” Vigier said. “They bring some of the best 18-year olds in the entire country, and they’ve been playing together.”

The National U-18 team consists of a 22-player roster. Two of the men, forward Jack Eichel and goaltender Blake Weyrick were both part of the U.S. Men’s National U-18 team that earned a silver medal in the 2013 International Ice Hockey Federation Men’s Under-18 World Championship. The tournament was held in Sochi, Russia.

The U-18 team returns 19 athletes that have competed as members of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program (NTDP), which compiles teams like the U-18 team NMU will host Saturday.

The U-18 team has an undefeated 5-0 record after opening their season Friday, Sept. 13 with an 8-0 victory over Chicago Steel, which is a Junior A hockey team in the United States Hockey League.

Kyle said the Wildcats are going to use the exhibition games this weekend as their first true practices, which the ’Cats have not yet seen due to NCAA restrictions.

“We haven’t had any real practices,” Kyle said. “There’ll be guys that are competing to get in the lineup, and other guys in the lineup that will be competing to go from 16 minutes a game to 22 minutes a game for special teams time.”

The Wildcats host again at 2:07 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6 against Laurentian University, a team out of Sudbury, Ontario.

The game will be the first of the 2013 season for Laurentian.

Wildcat team captain, senior defenseman CJ Ludwig, said he is confident the ’Cats are going to have a good season, beginning with the competition they will face this weekend.

“I think we’re going to be a good team,” Ludwig said. “We have a lot of new guys that are going to play a big role for us with strong discipline.”

The Wildcats will be allowed to have practice time following the exhibition games this weekend. Kyle said he projects the athletes to use this time early in the season to prepare for bigger opponents.

“These are two really good opportunities for guys to show us who they are and to earn ice time going into the first weekend of NCAA play,” Kyle said. “We had a number of guys that last year, for various reasons, did not have the years that they were capable of, and going into this year each of those guys looks like they’re ready to have a bounce back year. We tried to give them solutions, and I think those guys took everything to heart and that is a big deal.”