’Cats look for first sweep of season against Anchorage

Ray Bressette

NMU returns to WCHA play at home this weekend with crucial conference points on the line, hosting an Alaska Anchorage Seawolves team that is breathing down the ’Cats’ neck in the standings.

After splitting a pair against the University of Minnesota Duluth last weekend, NMU will host the Seawolves at 7:07 p.m. both Friday, Feb. 5 and Saturday, Feb. 6 at the Berry
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The Wildcats are in the thick of the WCHA playoff hunt with five series remaining in the regular season, all of which are conference matchups.

NMU sits fifth in the WCHA heading into this weekend with 18 points, two behind Ferris State.

Anchorage comes to Marquette just two points behind NMU, giving them the opportunity to tie or pass the Wildcats in the standings.

The ’Cats have two more conference games to play than the four teams in front of them in the WCHA standings, giving them an upper hand to earn conference points and reach a top-four seed to host the first round of the WCHA at the Berry Events Center.

NMU head coach Walt Kyle said this weekend’s matchup will show how competitive the WCHA is panning out to be.

“There’s not a lot of difference between the third place and tenth place team in our league,” Kyle said. “Alaska brings great goaltending, and they’re very physical. They’ll present a lot of problems for us.”

Kyle said junior forward Sami Salminen and senior forward Justin Rose could return to the lineup this week, while senior goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom probably needs at least one more week to heal despite seeing action Saturday night.

Dahlstrom replaced freshman goalie Mathias Israelsson just four minutes into Saturday’s game after Israelsson allowed two goals on three shots to start the game.

“It really put us behind the eight ball, and we had to pull Israelsson to change momentum,” Kyle said. “For the next 56 minutes it was a 1-1 game. At the same time, we have to be able to score more than one goal. We had good power-play opportunities and didn’t convert on them.”

Despite the struggles to start Saturday’s game, Kyle said his team showed resilience in their efforts of staying competitive throughout the game.

“I liked the way we battled back and played,” Kyle said. “We threw water on the fire early, and the guys never gave in. That’s been a hallmark for our year. We have to create offense to score, and right now our power play is not as efficient as it needs to be, and we have to start there.”

Anchorage comes to the Berry losing three of their last four matches, splitting a home series with Alabama-Huntsville last weekend.

Senior forward Blake Tatchell is the Seawolves’ leader in points with 19, the ninth best in the conference and was referred by Kyle as one of the best players in the league.

Kyle said his team’s biggest key will be consistency each night this weekend.

“We have to find a way to win back-to-back games,” Kyle said. “If we’re going to anchor down the third or fourth spot in the playoffs to get home ice, we have to start doing that.”

Senior forward Darren Nowick and junior forward Dominik Shine each have scored 10 goals for NMU and will need to continue their offensive streaks if NMU is going to play at home during the playoffs in March.

While each conference game has crucial implications on the season, Kyle said his team is taking each game one at a time.

“We don’t look at the playoff picture much,” Kyle said. “I know what’s at stake, but the big thing is to find ways to have success and grow, so we’re at the top of our game at the right time of year. We’re trying to make decisions when we have guys banged up and questionable to sit instead of forcing into the lineup. We need to get them healed for the end, and in the process, we still need to find ways to win games.”