Playoff picture tightening on hockey ’Cats

Ray Bressette

The Wildcat hockey team lost control of their own destiny in terms of obtaining home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs last weekend after getting swept on their own ice by the Bemidji State University Beavers.

NMU head coach Walt Kyle said his team understands the situation they’ve put themselves in.

“It’s a six-game season now,” Kyle said. “Losing the tiebreaker with Bemidji means we have to get one more win than they do the rest of the way. We just have to go out every night and get done what we have to do.”

The Beavers defeated the Wildcats 1-0 Friday, Feb. 13 and followed their performance with a 5-1 triumph the following evening. Wildcat junior goaltender Michael Doan recorded his best save percentage of the season at .967 in Friday’s loss, but suffered his worst performance of the season Saturday with a .762 save percentage allowing five goals on 21 shots.

The Wildcats outshot the Beavers 37-21 despite the loss.

Senior forward and team co-captain Ryan Kesti said he felt the ’Cats outplayed the Beavers in Saturday’s loss.

“We had some turnovers, and good teams take advantage of their opponents’ mistakes and that’s exactly what they did,” Kesti said. “I was really proud of our effort, and through the majority of the game we dictated the pace. It came down to them capitalizing on their opportunities, and we didn’t.”

Sophomore forward John Siemer scored the only goal in the series for the ’Cats 9:46 into the third period of Saturday’s game to cut Bemidji’s lead to 3-1. The Beavers scored two goals over the next eight minutes to complete the series sweep.

The Wildcats have a 19.8 power-play percentage this season, and an 85.7 percent penalty kill.

Kyle said the ’Cats’ special team has been a concern.

“I don’t like our inability to convert on the powerplay,” Kyle said. “We had turnovers in the second period (Saturday) that created Bemidji goals, so the message we’re sending our guys is we need to get pucks to the net.”

Both the Wildcats and Beavers sit with an 8-10-4 conference record with 20 conference points. Bemidji owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over NMU, as they took the season series between the two clubs 3-0-1.

Bemidji holds the fourth and final spot in hosting first round playoffs in the WCHA playoffs in March.

The Beavers’ remaining schedule includes a home series against the WCHA’s last place Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves before traveling to Ferris State University and concluding the season at home against the No. 2-ranked Minnesota State University Mavericks.

As for the Wildcats, they will travel to play the Bowling Green State University Falcons this weekend, with a home series against Lake Superior State University and a home-and-home series against Michigan Tech to end the season.

This weekend, the ’Cats will be on the road against a Bowling Green team that earned a 5-5 tie and 5-0 win over NMU at Berry Events Center back in December.

Since those two meetings, the Falcons are 7-4-1 while the Wildcats have been 3-9-4.

Puck drop for this weekend’s games are set for 7:07 p.m. both Friday, Feb. 20 and Saturday, Feb. 21.

Overall, Bowling Green is 18-7-5 on the season, 14-5-3 in conference play and sit third in the WCHA with 31 points.

Bowling Green head coach Chris Bergeron has served as the Falcons’ head coach for five seasons and has eliminated NMU in the postseason twice.

“We are expecting a hard fought series with Northern,” Bergeron said. “Obviously these are very important games for both teams.”

Sophomore forward Kevin Dufour leads the Falcons in goals with 13, while freshman forward Brandon Hawkins and sophomore forward Matt Pohlkamp each have 21 points to lead the club. NHL Philadelphia Flyers’ prospect Mark Friedman has two goals with 16 assists on the season for Bowling Green.

Junior goaltender Tommy Burke has earned a .928 save-percentage between the pipes for Bowling Green and has racked up a 2.08 goals against average.

Kyle said the ’Cats need to keep their heads high moving forward.

“I’ve done this a long time and I know that sometimes you’re not always rewarded for good play,” Kyle said. “Sometimes you need to just turn the corner and keep playing. There’s some things we need to clean up and get better at, especially controlling the puck, but when we do that we’re going to be fine.”