The Wildcat hockey team will experience their first competitive play of the season in front of fans this weekend when they host an intrasquad scrimmage at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11 at Berry Events Center.
The scrimmage, which is free to the public, will be the ’Cats’ first test before traveling to Green Bay next weekend to take on the University of Wisconsin Badgers Friday, Oct. 17 and Saturday, Oct. 18 at the Resch Center.
Head coach Walt Kyle said the scrimmage gives the new players a chance to get a feel for game days.
“From a coach’s perspective, this gives us a chance to run things like we would on a game day,” Kyle said. “Our guys will get a chance to come in and stretch, get the rhythm of preparing for a 7 p.m. start, learning when and how we do our meetings, see how we go through our warm ups and get the game-day routine dry from that perspective.
“It’ll also give them a chance on the bench to get coached during the course of play, which they don’t usually get during their practice scrimmages against each other.”
While most teams skate with one captain at the helm, senior defenseman Jake Baker and senior forward Ryan Kesti will share the role of the team’s co-captains for the 2014-15 season. Baker, a native of Port Moody, B.C. has 17 points on three goals and 14 assists through 108 games through his first three seasons at the defensive line for NMU. Kesti, from Red Wing, Minn. has 11 career points at NMU with six goals and five assists in 95 games as a Wildcat.
Kesti said although there are two captaincies, leadership will also come from other members of the team.
“There’s a big group of leadership in our locker room,” Kesti said. “We have a lot of guys who are great leaders, and there’s no one person that’s going to take charge of this team. It’s going to be a committee of leaders by hard work and dedication from everyone.”
The ’Cats will have four freshman skating with the team on Saturday night, including the additions of forward Zach Diamantoni, defenseman Jordan Klimek, forward Robbie Payne and Marquette-native Easton Vitala.
Kyle said players from last season’s squad have shown improvement from the offseason.
“We have a large group of guys who have taken steps from a year ago,” Kyle said. “We’ve benefited from having our first full summer with our strength and conditioning guy around, and I think that when we came back we saw physical changes in our players along with improvement on the ice. There’s a lot of increase in our talent level with a lot of new possibilities for this team.”
In a recent WCHA preseason poll voted on by the 10 conference head coaches, NMU was projected to finish sixth out of 10 teams in the conference. The Minnesota State Mavericks were predicted to finish first. The ’Cats’ U.P. rival, the Michigan Tech Huskies were picked to finish third.
Sophomore forward John Siemer said the polls underestimate the ‘Cats’ potential.
“We’ll let them think what they want, but I think our team is going to be pretty good and we’ll prove a lot of people wrong,” Siemer said. “We’ve been focusing mainly on playing as a team, coming together as a group and learning on the same page while working together. All the preparation we’ve had in the offseason is building up, so I think everybody’s overly excited to start.”
Kyle said the polls are basing their predictions off last season’s results.
“If you look at our team from the outside you might not know the real talent level that some of our guys have around here,” Kyle said. “Some of our guys were young faces in the league last season, and didn’t do a lot to impact the game, who are ready to now become impact guys.
“We see a lot with this team that people on the outside don’t. Those polls don’t mean anything to us, and we base everything more on playing and winning the games.”
Kesti said the players look forward to the first of their competition of the season this weekend.
“Everyone’s excited to get started and get out on the ice,” Kesti said. “The team gets back here early in the year and we have a few scrimmages amongst ourselves, but when we get the coaches out there it’s a chance to really start honing in on things and get prepared for the season. It’ll be good to get our game on video and learn from our mistakes, and with only having two lines on each side it will probably be a bit of a conditioning stint as well, and it’s the first chance to really get a few bumps in and get going.”