With four weeks remaining in the WCHA regular season, the Wildcat hockey team will have the opportunity to extend their lead in the standings for home ice in the opening round place when the Bemidji State University Beavers come to Marquette.
NMU head coach Walt Kyle said it’s time for his team get in the postseason mindset.
“The biggest thing is you don’t want to back into the playoffs,” Kyle said. “There’s eight games left and you have to win games, and if you’re a good team, you’ll do that. We want to get home ice and lock down a fourth or third spot, but we also want to get our game in order so we can be successful in the playoffs.
“Every series is important right now, and being two games ahead of them makes it a critical series but every game is important and you have to win. There’s no excuses.”
NMU sits in fourth place in the WCHA, the final spot, with home ice in the first round of the playoffs March 13-15. The ’Cats are 8-8-4 in conference play with 20 points.
NMU is nine points behind third place Bowling Green State University, which sits with 29, while Michigan Tech is in second place with 35 and Minnesota State-Mankato leads the conference with 39 points.
Bemidji enters this weekend’s series 6-10-4 in conference play with 16 points, just four points behind the Wildcats, giving them the opportunity to catch NMU in the standings with a pair of regulation wins.
The Beavers took the first series between the two clubs earlier in the season with a 4-2 defeat over the Wildcats Friday, Dec. 12 followed by a 1-1 tie the following evening both in Bemidji, Minn.
NMU junior goaltender Michael Doan stopped 70 of the 74 shots he faced in the series with a .945 save percentage.
The Wildcats are coming off a non-conference road series loss to the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs last weekend in Minnesota.
The Bulldogs’ special teams earned the first win with a powerplay goal and a shorthanded goal lifted Duluth to a 3-1 win over the ’Cats Friday, Feb. 6.
The following evening, Doan let in five goals in two periods before getting benched for the third period for sophomore goaltender Derek Dun in the Wildcats’ 6-3 loss Saturday, Feb. 7.
The Wildcats closed out non-conference play for the 2014-15 season with a 3-3-2 record and currently sit 11-11-6 overall.
Senior defenseman and team co-captain Jake Baker said the Wildcats are only looking ahead to hosting a critical home series this weekend.
“Right now we’re in a good spot,” Baker said. “These upcoming games are going to be big for us. We want to get in a good groove before we head into the playoffs, so this series is going to be really important.
“It’s nice to be at home again this weekend. No matter what, guys are going to be working hard but being home and sleeping in your own bed helps.”
Sophomore goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom’s status is still uncertain moving forward, after missing the last three games with an injury sustained against University of Alaska-Anchorage on Jan. 30. Doan has filled in for Dahlstrom in the starting role the past three games.
Sophomore defenseman Brock Maschmeyer’s eight goals lead the Wildcats in scoring this season, while junior forward Darren Nowick and sophomore forward Dominik Shine lead the team in points with 18, as each have seven goals and 11 assists.
Bemidji’s sophomore forward Charlie O’Connor leads his club in goals with nine, while senior defenseman Matt Prapavessis has racked up 20 points for the Beavers. Freshman goaltender Michael Bitzer has recorded a .919 save percentage and a 2.00 goals-against average in 19 games for Bemidji this season.
The Beavers dropped their first two games on their trip to the U.P. last weekend
This will be Bemidji’s second trip to Marquette, with their only other visit in 2009 when the Beavers earned a 3-3 tie and 5-0 win.
Maschmeyer said the ’Cats will need a loud fan support for the big conference series.
“This is a big weekend where we have to get four points,” Maschmeyer said. “This is a team we’re competing with who’s right behind us which makes the weekend huge. It’s always nice to have fans behind us and get a home ice advantage, so we have to use the crowd to our advantage.”