’Cats scratch with Nittany Lions

Ray Bressette

The NMU hockey ’Cats will be in the national spotlight this weekend when the team travels to the Big Ten’s Penn State University Nittany Lions in State College, Penn.

The series, which will be the first matchup between the two squads in Penn State’s two year program history, will take place Friday, Jan. 23, as well as the following day at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24. Saturday’s game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

NMU assistant coach Rob Lehtinen said this weekend’s matchup will be exciting for the Wildcat community.

“The TV part is nice for families back home to see everything,” Lehtinen said. “It’s really a big non-conference series for us. We have a pretty good non-conference record going for us right now. We’re heading into a new building, a new atmosphere with a great student section, and I think our guys are going to be ready to go.”

The ’Cats enter non-conference play with a 6-8-4 WCHA record, 9-8-5 overall. NMU is 3-0-1 in non-conference play.

NMU is coming off a pair of losses to the University of Alabama-Huntsville, falling 2-1 on Friday, Jan. 16, and 3-2 Saturday, Jan. 17.

The Wildcats are 1-5-4 in their previous 10 games.

This will be the ’Cats second opponent from the Big Ten conference this season. NMU opened their 2014-15 season with a sweep over the University of Wisconsin Badgers Friday, Oct. 17-18, in a Wildcat “home” series at the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wisc.

NMU assistant coach John Kyle said this weekend is a good team for a non-conference matchup.

“This will allow us to play much better,” Kyle said. “Last weekend, we might have been holding our sticks too tight and this is going to allow us to get back to who we are and start playing Wildcat hockey. We’ll need to play physical while staying out of the box and find a way to create some offense.”

NMU sophomore goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom has posted a .923 save percentage and 2.01 goals against average through 18 games.

The Nittany Lions are leading the six-team Big Ten conference with a 5-2-1 conference record, 11-7-3 overall.

Senior defenseman Mitch Jones said the ’Cats feed off playing the nation’s top teams.

“We like playing good teams,” Jones said. “It’s a challenge for us. We play off good teams and try to prove we belong up there. It’ll be a good series playing a team from the Big Ten, and it’s a good chance for us to get back on track after going off-track last weekend, so it’s a good opportunity for us.”

Kyle said he expects his team to step up their game against a Big Ten opponent.

“Right now, Penn State is a highly competitive team that will definitely be a big challenge,” Kyle said. “We always tell our players that you get better when you play good teams. We shouldn’t have a problem getting up for this and raising our intensity and sharpness.”

Penn State has one of the highest goal scorers in the nation in junior forward Casey Bailey, whose 16 goals is the second highest in the country.

Senior forward Ryan Kesti said the Wildcats hope to use this series as a momentum builder moving forward.

“There are times throughout the year that can turn your season up or down, but it’s never too late to turn your season in the right direction,” Kesti said. “We still have a very good team in our locker room and one weekend is not going to define our season. We have to score a few goals and get a couple wins under our  belt ,and through hard structure and commitment we can make it happen.”