Hockey team embarks two-week trip in Alaska

Ray Bressette

After a bye week for the No. 17-ranked NMU hockey team, the Wildcats will travel to Alaska for a two week trip which will begin with a visit to the University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves.

Head coach Walt Kyle said he doesn’t expect the long trip to affect his team’s play.

“I’m not worried about the travel at all,” Kyle said. “We have really good leadership and really good chemistry within the team. We’re heading into some tough places to play, but it’s not going to be because of any lack of focus with the team. We just have to manage our quality of play, and if we do that and don’t worry about the little things, we’ll be fine.”

The Wildcats are 6-1-1 overall this season, 3-1-0 in conference play and have taken seven out of eight possible WCHA points in their matches.

The last time the ’Cats hit the ice was in a home series against the then-ranked No. 16 Ferris State University Bulldogs.

NMU fell to Ferris 1-0 in overtime Friday, Nov. 7 before defeating the Bulldogs 2-0 the following evening Saturday, Nov. 8.

The Wildcats took three out of four possible points in the series.

Senior defenseman Mitch Jones said beating quality opponents helps the team build confidence.

“I think we’re for real this year,” Jones said. “Some people might have said we had an easy schedule early on this year, but Ferris is a real good team that’s been at the top of the conference for the last few years. We know we’re for real, we’re going to keep rolling and our goal is to win this league this year.”

Much of the ’Cats’ success has come from sophomore goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom, who has started all eight games for NMU with a .97 save percentage, the best among all goalies in the country, and a 74 goals against average.  Junior forward Darren Nowick has four goals and seven points for the Wildcat offense this season, while sophomore forward Dominik Shine has eight points and three goals.

NMU is in for their longest travel of the regular season this week, as they will travel to Anchorage, Alaska to take on the Seawolves at 11:07 p.m. both Friday, Nov. 21 and Saturday, Nov. 22 in Sullivan Arena.

The Seawolves sit ninth out of the 10 WCHA teams, as they’ve earned two conference points through their 1-5 conference record, while they’ve played to a 4-6-2 record overall. Alaska-Anchorage is coming off a road trip where they were swept by Ferris by scores of 10-2 Friday, Nov. 14 and 4-0 Saturday, Nov. 15 in Big Rapids, Mich.

The Seawolves’ senior forward Scott Allen and senior defenseman Austin Coldwell have been Alaska-Anchorage’s top offensive producers with three goals and six points each. Freshman goaltender Olivier Mantha has seen the most playing time in net for the Seawolves so far this season, where he has a 2.70 goals against average.  Alaska-Anchorage head coach Robert Thomas said this weekend’s series has great implications for his team.

“This is an important early season matchup for us,” Thomas said. “After playing three of the last four weeks on the road we are looking to get back to our winning ways and hope that our home ice advantage will be a key for us. We know that we have a tough opponent and one of the country’s best goaltenders in Dahlstrom, so a perfect game is probably going to be needed if we want to win this weekend.”

Last season the ’Cats earned a split in their trip to Anchorage, winning their first match 3-1 Jan. 24, but fell the following night 4-2 on Jan. 25 at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks, Alaska.

NMU will stay in Alaska the following week, where they will finish their road trip against the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks at 11:07 p.m. Friday, Nov. 28 and Saturday, Nov. 29. The Nanooks are last out of the 10 teams in the WCHA, with no conference points in their 0-4 conference record. The Nanooks are 5-5 overall, and are 2-2 at home this season.

NMU freshman forward Robbie Payne said he expects the ’Cats to continue competing on a high level in Alaska.

“It’s a long trip, but this team stays focused no matter what we do,” Payne said. “We have the right mindset no matter what we go through in a game, so we’re going to be fine. We just have to play our game, do what we do best, and when we do that we’re just as good as any other team in the country.”