Wildcats swept by Huskies in regular season finale

Ray Bressette

resizehockeyThe Wildcat hockey team was bit by the Michigan Tech Huskies’ offense this weekend, as Tech swept NMU in a home-and-home series to end the 2014-15 regular season.

The Huskies outshot the Wildcats 91-42 on the weekend series, earning a 5-1 win Friday, March 6 in Houghton before following up their performance the following evening with a 3-1 victory in Marquette to compete the weekend sweep.

“Kudos to Tech, they are a real good team and did a real good job,” said NMU head coach Walt Kyle. “I thought we were better [Saturday] than we were [Friday], and I think we took a step forward. We are a little banged up, but I have faith in them. I believe that whoever is out there for us is going to get the job done. The guys at the bottom of the lines [Saturday] had the best nights.

Senior forward Blake Pietila opened the scoring for Tech in Friday’s game, tipping in a goal 11 minutes into the first period to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead.

39-seconds later, NMU’s sophomore forward Shane Sooth tied the game at one apiece with a goal assisted by sophomore forward Dominik Shine and senior forward Reed Seckel.

Tech was quick to respond however, as 31-seconds later sophomore defenseman Cliff Watson scored to give the Huskies the lead back at 2-1.

With 5:23 remaining in the second period, the Huskies tacked another goal onto their lead scored by sophomore forward Tyler Heinonen to make it a 3-1 game. Pietila and Heinonen each added a third period goal to complete the 5-1 victory.

Wildcat sophomore goaltender Michael Doan was pulled after Tech’s fifth goal and was replaced by sophomore Derek Dun. Doan had stopped 41 of the 46 shots he faced, and Dun stopped all five that were shot his way. Tech outshot the Wildcats 51-21 in the opening game of the series. The ’Cats were 0-3 on powerplay opportunities, while the Huskies were 0-4 on the powerplay.

Tech continued their offensive success the following evening at Berry Events Center in Marquette, outshooting the Wildcats 40-21 in the game and 18-1 in the second period.

Early in the first period, Shine was handed a minor penalty for charging 6:48 into the game, which Heinonen turned into a powerplay goal at 8:40 into the game to give the Huskies the 1-0 lead.

Tech widened their lead early in the second period with a goal from senior forward Tanner Kero at 1:57 to take the two-goal lead.

Midway through the second period, a pile up around the Wildcat goal crease led to another Tech goal scored by sophomore forward Reid Sturos. As the goal snuck behind Doan into the net, both teams exchanged rivalry skirmishes involving all players on the ice with the exception of Tech’s junior goaltender Jamie Phillips, leading to minor penalties for roughing to Pietila and senior forward David Johnstone for Tech, as well as a major penalty and game misconducted to NMU’s freshman defenseman Zach Urban.

The game was held scoreless until late in the third period when NMU sophomore forward Casey Purpur scored a powerplay goal, his first goal as a Wildcat, with 54 seconds remaining on the clock to end Phillips’ hopes of earning his fifth shutout of the season.

Both teams were 1-7 on the powerplay in Saturday’s game.

Phillips said he felt the Wildcats were a dirtier team than his Huskies in the rivalry matchup.

“I’m proud of our team and proud of the win, but I can’t say too much about (NMU), the way they handled the loss is not the way you want to do it,” Phillips said.

“I can’t really speak for their team if that’s the way they want to play. If they want to go around trying to hurt guys, that’s up to them and we have to keep our guys safe.”

In the final period of Saturday’s game, Tech was handed eight penalties while the ‘Cats were called for six.

With the losses, the Wildcats dropped to 14-16-6 this season, 11-13-4 in conference play and fell to sixth seed in the WCHA playoff standings, setting up a matchup with the nation’s No. 13-ranked Bowling Green State University Falcons in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs next weekend in Bowling Green, Ohio.

This will be the third time the two teams have met up in postseason play in the last five seasons. Bowling Green upset the Wildcats in 2011 and 2012 in the opening round of the CCHA playoffs, earning the road series wins 2-1 in the best-of-three series at Berry Events Center both years.

This season, the ’Cats were 2-1-1 against the Falcons including a pair of road wins in Bowling Green Friday, Feb. 20 and Saturday, Feb. 21.

The two squads are set to skate at 7:07 p.m. both Friday, March 13 and Saturday, March 14, and if necessary a deciding third game will close out the series at 7:07 p.m. Sunday, March 15.