Hockey ’Cats return to non-conference play in Duluth

Ray Bressette

The Wildcat hockey team will head into non-conference play once again this weekend when the team heads to the No. 7-ranked University of Minnesota Duluth to take on the Bulldogs.

The ’Cats are familiar with non-conference play this season, with a 3-1-2 record outside of WCHA play and 8-8-4 in games within their conference, combining for a 11-9-6 overall record.

The Wildcats earned their third series sweep of the season last weekend when NMU earned a pair of wins over the University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves at Berry Events Center.

NMU head coach Walt Kyle said the series sweep was a big accomplishment for his team.

“We needed the points and to get back in the rhythm with some momentum going for us,” Kyle said. “Saturday was one of our more complete performances this season. Our mentality was really good all weekend and our team did what they had to do.”

The Wildcats had a 1-0 lead Friday, Jan. 30 when senior forward and team co-captain Ryan Kesti scored 23 seconds into the game, before sophomore goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom left the game with an injury 2:05 into the match. Sophomore goaltender Derek Dun came in for Dahlstrom’s replacement.

The teams exchanged scores three times throughout the game, but sophomore defenseman Brock Maschmeyer put the Wildcats ahead for good with the team’s fourth goal at 8:29 in the third period, assisted by sophomore forwards Gerard Hanson and Shane Sooth. A goal from sophomore forward Sami Salminen iced the game 6:08 later to give the ’Cats a 5-3 win. Dun was 23 for 26 in the net for NMU, earning his first career win.

The following evening, junior goaltender Michael Doan was between the pipes for the Wildcats, but faced half the shots Dun did the previous night with only 13 shots his way.

Freshman forward Robbie Payne opened the scoring 17:40 into the game with a goal assisted by freshman forward Zach Diamantoni to give the ’Cats a first period lead. Anchorage tied the game less than two minutes later when senior forward Brett Cameron scored a power-play goal to tie the game.

Senior defenseman Mitch Jones put the ’Cats back on top 1:56 into the third period with a power-play goal assisted by Maschmeyer and sophomore forward John Siemer.

The Wildcats held their lead through much of the third period and as the ’Cats were 19 seconds from victory late in the game and an empty night in Anchorage’s goal crease, the Seawolves’ senior forward Scott Allen tied the game at 19:41, which sent the game into overtime.

The two teams were seconds away from ending the match in a tie when NMU’s junior defenseman Barret Kaib and Sooth found Salminen with the game-winning goal with 11 seconds left on the clock to give NMU the win and series sweep over the Seawolves.

The win gave NMU their 20th conference points, keeping them in fourth out of 10 teams in the WCHA standings, four points ahead of Bemidji State University and Ferris State University.

Up next for the Wildcats will be the No. 7-ranked Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs in a non-conference matchup in Duluth.

The Bulldogs are 15-10-1 on the season and sit third out of eight teams in the NCHC.

Duluth is coming off a split series at the University of Denver, dropping the first match 3-2 Friday, Jan. 30 before evening the series with a 4-2 win Saturday, Jan. 31, both in Denver.

Duluth’s sophomore forward Dominic Toninato’s 14 goals are the 21st most in the nation.

Toninato also leads his club in points with 22.

The Bulldogs’ starting freshman goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo is 23-18 this season with a .911 save percentage and a 2.35 goals-against average.

Jones said the defense cannot be intimidated facing one of the nation’s top teams.

“We prepare the same every weekend,” Jones said. “We just need to keep playing strong defensively like we did against Anchorage and find a way to score goals when we need them.”

Dahlstrom’s status moving forward is uncertain for the Wildcats.

Doan is 1-2-2 in the seven games he’s played in this season and has recorded a .916 save percentage and a 2.56 goals-against average.

Maschmeyer’s eight goals lead the Wildcats in scoring, while sophomore forward Dominik Shine and junior forward Darren Nowick are tied for the most points on the ’Cats with 18.

Doan said the Wildcats are successful in non-conference matchups because people don’t understand who the ’Cats are.

“I think a lot of times we go to places where teams don’t recognize who we are and they take us lightly,” Doan said. “When we go play big teams like this, we want to show them who we are and not make the mistake of taking anyone lightly, so when they take you for granted it’s an advantage for us.”