Hockey ’Cats draw Falcons in first round

Ray Bressette

The Wildcat hockey team will look to win their first playoff series in five years this weekend as the ’Cats travel to the No. 13-ranked Bowling Green State University Falcons in a three-game-series to open the WCHA playoffs in Bowling Green, Ohio.

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Junior goaltender Michael Doan said the ’Cats know what’s at stake this weekend. “We know at this point what we have to do to succeed in the playoffs,” Doan said. “It’s do-or-die now, so I guess we’re going to find out what we’re made of.”

Puck drop between NMU and Bowling Green is set for 7:07 p.m. both Friday, March 13 and Saturday, March 14, with game three of the series scheduled for Sunday, March 15 if necessary.

The ’Cats are backing into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak, dropping a home-and-home series against their rival Michigan Tech Huskies last weekend. Tech earned a 5-1 win Friday, March 5 in Houghton, Mich., outshooting the ’Cats 51-21 in the game.

The Huskies finished the sweep with a 3-1 win Saturday, March 6 at Berry Events Center.

The two teams combined for 81 penalty minutes on 24 infractions in Saturday’s game, including two game misconducts.

Doan said the emotions of the weekend got out of hand against Tech.

“At the college level it normally doesn’t get as out of hand as it did, but that’s as good of a rivalry as you’re going to get in college hockey,” Doan said. “It’s good to see that kind of emotion. We don’t like losing, let alone losing to those guys. We wish we could start the weekend all over again and have it back, but we can’t. That’s just the way it goes.”

This weekend will be the third time in five seasons the ’Cats and Falcons meet up in the first round of the playoffs, and first since the two clubs joined the WCHA in 2013 from the now-defunct CCHA.

In both 2011 and 2012, Bowling Green traveled to Berry Events Center and upset the Wildcats in three games both seasons, becoming the first 11 seed to defeat a sixth in CCHA history.

This will also be the third series NMU and Bowling Green will meet up in this season. The Falcons took the first matchup between the two clubs, earning a 5-5 tie Friday, Dec. 5 before shutting out the ’Cats 5-0 to take the opening series.

The Wildcats responded two months later on a trip to Bowling Green, when the ’Cats fought back from a 2-1 deficit midway through the third period to tie the game and send it to overtime. Senior forward and team co-captain Ryan Kesti shot the puck past Bowling Green junior goaltender Tommy Burke to give the ’Cats the 3-2 overtime win.

The following evening, the ’Cats once again found themselves trailing the Falcons, this time 2-0 and 3-1 when junior forward Justin Rose cut the Falcons lead to 3-2. Senior forward Reed Seckel scored two goals in the final 12 minutes of the game to complete the comeback victory and give the ’Cats the weekend sweep over the Falcons and put NMU ontop 2-1-1 in the overall regular season series between the two clubs.

The Falcons finished the season 21-10-5 overall, 17-8-3 in conference play. Freshman forward Brandon Hawkins is leading the Falcons on offense this season with 14 goals as well as points with 28.

Burke has earned a 12-5-3 record between the pipes for the Falcons this year as their starting goalie, recording a 2.19 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage.

For the ’Cats, sophomore defenseman Brock Maschmeyer’s nine goals leads NMU in scoring, while junior forward Darren Nowick leads the club in points with 22. Nowick missed ten straight games before the Tech series due to injury, but returned to the lineup against the Huskies. Starting sophomore goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom has also missed playing time the past 12 games due to injury, with Doan filling in for his replacement. Doan has posted a 2.97 goals-against average with a .913 save-percentage in 17 games played this season, 15 started.

NMU head coach Walt Kyle said the ’Cats are capable of winning this weekend’s series despite recent injuries.

“I don’t know how healthy we really are, and it’s one of those things that is day-to-day with us right now,” Kyle said. “Whoever’s in the lineup is going to do the job for us, and I feel comfortable with our guys right now. Doan has some games and minutes behind him which is big for us, and we’re starting to get some guys back.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge, but we’re anxious to get a new start.”

The winner of this weekend’s match will advance to the WCHA Final Five in St. Paul, Minn. the following weekend.

Sophomore forward Casey Purpur said the ’Cats have matched up well with the Falcons this season.

“We’re pretty familiar with Bowling Green,” Purpur said. “We had a lot of success the last time we were down there. We know how to beat [Bowling Green], we know how to go into their building and win, which we can count as a small victory. We have to get our ducks in a row, go down there and make sure we leave Bowling Green with a win and keep moving on in the playoffs.”