‘Cats and Dogs set to renew classic rivalry

Ray Bressette

The Wildcat hockey team prepares to face their longest rival in team history, the No. 8-ranked Michigan Tech Huskies this weekend in a home-and-home series which will begin at 7:07 p.m. Friday, Jan. 9 at Berry Events Center before shifting to Macinnes Student Ice Arena at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 10 in Houghton.

NMU head coach Walt Kyle said the rivalry is a classic.

unnamed“It’s a great rivalry,” Kyle said. “Both schools and communities are blessed to have it. The Upper Peninsula and the alumni take pride in this series, and we’re excited for the chance to play.” 

This will mark the 133rd and 134th games in the two team’s rivalry, with NMU leading the series 67-52-13.

The Huskies have been jumping the national rankings all season, and enter the weekend with a 10-2 conference record, 15-5 overall and sit second in the WCHA with 20 conference points. Tech is coming off a split series with the University of Wisconsin Badgers, where they defeated Wisconsin 8-1 Friday, Jan. 2 before getting shutout the following night 2-0 both in Madison, Wisc.

Tech is 5-3 at home and 9-1 on the road this season, with their lone road loss to Wisconsin Saturday night. 

Senior forward Ryan Kesti said the ’Cats cannot get caught up in the animosity of the rivalry.

“The key to the weekend will be to play with emotion but keeping it in check,” Kesti said. “They’re a good offensive team and we need to play defensively sound and take control of our chances.” 

The Wildcats, who sit fifth in the WCHA with a 5-6-3 conference record and 8-6-4 overall, are 0-4-2 in their last six games, which featured home ties over No. 11-ranked Bowling Green State University and No. 4-ranked Minnesota State Mankato.

Michigan Tech head coach Mel Pearson said the Huskies are ready for the next installment of their rivalry with NMU.

“Anytime Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan meet on the ice you can expect a hard fought, intense series,” Pearson said. “With both teams having a good year it only adds to the anticipation of these games. It should be a very entertaining weekend of hockey for the fans. This rivalry is as good as it gets.”

The ’Cats have played their last four games without sophomore goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom, who has sat due to injury, and his status for this weekend will be undetermined until later in the week. Dahlstrom is sixth in the country with a .934 save percentage and a 1.73 goals-against average.

Junior goaltender Michael Doan has filled in the past four games for Dahlstrom, and has registered a .930 save percentage and a 2.25 goals-against average.

Doan said he will continue to play with confidence if Dahlstrom cannot suit up for the ’Cats this weekend.

“I’ve been working for this the past three years,” Doan said. “It was unfortunate when (Dahlstrom) got hurt, but that’s why I prepare everyday like I’m going to play, so when I got my chance I was ready for it.” 

Sophomore defenseman Brock Maschmeyer is the ’Cats leading goal scorer with five goals and two assists. Sophomore forward Dominik Shine leads NMU in points with 13 off four goals and nine assists, while junior forward Darren Nowick and sophomore forward Shane Sooth each have racked up double digit points as well. 

The Wildcat defense will be up against a Huskie offense that averages 3.2 goals and 33.2 shots per game, which is led by senior forward Tanner Kero who is seventh in the nation in points with 24. Junior forward Alex Petan is third in the WCHA in scoring with nine goals for the Huskies.

Tech’s junior goaltender Jamie Phillips is fifth in the country with a .939 save percentage and a 1.66 goals-against average. Phillips is first in the nation in wins with 15.

On special teams, the Wildcats have a 20 percent powerplay while the Huskies are 88.8 percent on the penalty kill.

The Huskies are 17.8 percent on the powerplay while NMU is 87.1 percent on the penalty kill.

This weekend will be the first series Tech’s assistant coach Joe Shawhan will face the Wildcats since leaving NMU for Tech this past summer. Shawhan was an assistant coach for NMU from 2008-2014.

Despite NMU leading the overall record between the two squads, the ’Cats have dropped four of the last five to the Huskies, with Tech taking last season’s overall series 3-1. NMU’s lone win over Tech last season was a 2-0 defeat on Friday, Oct. 25 at Berry Events Center. 

The ’Cats have not won in Houghton in three years, with their last win at Macinnes Student Ice Arena a 5-2 victory on Jan. 21, 2012.

Kesti said the Houghton faithful provide an intense atmosphere in their rink.

“I think their fans are chaotic, and with the way their building is set up there’s a lot of noise in there,” Kesti said. “The last couple seasons we haven’t started off with a good road mentality there, and that’s something we’re going to have to change.” 

Kyle said Tech’s success this season adds to the intensity of the series.

“This is the best team (Tech) has had in the 12 years I’ve been at NMU,” Kyle said. “Their coaching staff deserves a lot of credit. Our players understand how big this is, every college program has teams they’re rivaled with, and ours is right here in front of us.

“It makes for a great environment to play in, and players want to play in big games, against good opponents in front of loud crowds, and that should all happen this weekend.”