The NMU Wildcats (4-0) host their first home series of the season this weekend as they host the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers (0-6) at 7:07 p.m. both Friday, Oct. 31 as well as Saturday, Nov. 1 at Berry Events Center, with an opportunity to go 6-0 for the first time in 16 years.
NMU head coach Walt Kyle said despite the Chargers’ recent struggles, they’re capable of competing with any team in the WCHA.
“We played them last year in a must-win situation at the end of the season and had a real tough time with them in the second game, and we just played a struggling LSSU team that gave us everything they could handle,” Kyle said. “College hockey has teams that get out of the gate better than others, some have a given year while others don’t, and we’re not overlooking anyone right now. Anyone is capable of beating anyone.”
The Wildcats are coming off a pair of conference road wins over the Lake Superior State Lakers in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. during LSSU’s homecoming. NMU won Friday’s match 4-2 with two goals coming from junior forward Darren Nowick. The next evening, Wildcat sophomore goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom stood for his second shutout of the season as the ’Cats completed the sweep with a 3-0 win over LSSU.
Dahlstrom stopped all 23 shots he faced on Saturday, and saved 50 of the 52 shots his way in the series. Of the 10 WCHA teams, Dahlstrom leads all goaltenders in goals against average at 0.75, as well as save percentage at 97 percent. With the win, the ’Cats are 2-0 in WCHA play and are 4-0 overall for the fourth time in program history, first since the 1999 season. The last time the ’Cats started the season 6-0 was during the 1998-99 season, when head coach Rick Comley led NMU to the Regional quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
Nowick said he sees a change in the team’s culture.
“Things are definitely different around here this year,” Nowick said. “The last couple of seasons, we clicked as a team but nothing was as close to what it is now. Everyone is playing on the same page. There are no cliques, we’re one team, everyone’s together and we all feel good about this team.”
Through the ’Cats’ first four games, Nowick leads the club with four goals. Up next for the Wildcats will be the winless Alabama-Huntsville Chargers at 7:07 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 31 as well as Saturday, Nov. 1 at Berry Events Center. Last weekend, the Chargers were swept by the Minnesota State University Mavericks by scores of 3-1 Friday, Oct. 24 and 4-1 Saturday, Oct. 25.
Alabama Huntsville head coach Mike Corbett said his squad is looking forward to the competitive matchups this weekend.
“We will have to play very well and get pucks and bodies to the front of the net to get one by Dahlstrom,” Corbett said. “Right now he is the top goalie in the league. We will have to play our best to get some points in Marquette.
“We want to come in, compete and put ourselves in a position to steal one over the weekend.”
Sophomore defenseman Brandon Carlson and junior defenseman Frank Misuraca lead the Chargers in scoring with two goals each. Sophomore goaltenders Carmine Guerriero and Matt Larose have each started three games for Alabama-Huntsville. Guerriero has a 93 percent save percentage, allowing an average of 3.36 goals per game, while Larose has a 91 percent save percentage and allows four goals per game on average. Senior defenseman and team captain Jake Baker said the Chargers can be a threatening team this season.
“They work hard, and we know we can’t take any of our opponents in this league lightly,” Baker said. “They’ve lost their games by only a few goals to some real good teams, so we know what they’re capable of and what can happen. We’ll approach it like any other game and show up to play.”
Last season, the ’Cats swept the Chargers in the four games they played each other. Alabama Huntsville finished the 2013-14 last in the WCHA with a 2-25-1 conference record, and 2-35-1 overall.
Kyle said he hopes fans will pack Berry Events Center for the Wildcats’ home opener.
“The environment in the Berry when it’s full is unbelievable,” Kyle said. “We have some of the best fans in college hockey. Our students are aware of the game and are really into it, and our players always get up for a home crowd. It’s a special building, and hopefully our fans will pack it for a good weekend.”