Wildcats split first series against LSSU

Photo+by+Lindsey+Eaton%3A+Photo+taken+during+the+Wildcats+opening+weekend+against+Lake+Superior+State.+

Photo by Lindsey Eaton: Photo taken during the Wildcat’s opening weekend against Lake Superior State.

Ryan Spitza

Senior forward Robbie Payne cashed in a four-goal weekend as the Northern Michigan Hockey team earned a split with Lake Superior State in a home-and-home nonconference series last weekend.

The Wildcats fell to the Lakers at Taffy Abel Arena on Friday by a score of 5-3 before coming home on Saturday to earn a 4-1 win at an almost-full (3,128) Berry Events Center, the first collegiate win for Wildcats head coach Grant Potulny.

Payne’s four goals were good enough to give him the WCHA’s Offensive Player of the Week award, the third weekly award of his career.

Potulny said Payne’s award is a big honor this early in the season and hopes to better prepare him for the rest of the year.

“I think it’s fantastic anytime one of your guys gets recognized,” he said. “You’re going to have great weekends and for whatever reason, somebody else is going to get the award. With Robbie, we’ve got to keep him moving his feet. He’s got a great brain and a great offensive stick, we just need to get him in situations where he can use those gifts.”

Friday’s game in Sault Ste. Marie wasn’t the ideal start the Wildcats were looking for. Lakers center Diego Cuglietta ripped the first shot of the game past NMU junior goaltender Atte Tolvanen to take a 1-0 lead just six minutes into the game.

Less than two minutes later, LSSU’s Max Humitz got one past Tolvanen as well and the Lakers were suddenly up 2-0. The Wildcats pulled within one goal twice before LSSU pulled away. Four of LSSU’s five goals came on the power play.

“I thought we were a much better team on Friday than we were on Saturday,” Potulny said. “I thought we deserved better on Friday, but I think as a staff we’re pleased.”

Saturday was a different story. Four minutes into the game, LSSU goaltender Nick Kossoff mishandled the puck and Payne picked it up and beat Kossoff to give the Wildcats the early 1-0 lead.

Scoring chances were minimal after that despite a penalty-filled sequence between the first goal and the next. With 40 seconds remaining in the second period,  sophomore defender Philip Beaulieu came speeding up the left side of the ice and ended up right in front of Kossoff before ripping a shot and beating him right side for the 2-0 lead.

The Lakers pulled within one in the third period with a goal from Jake Hand. The Lakers had pressure and momentum throughout the third but with two minutes left to play in the game, junior forward Denver Pierce took a shot which was initially stopped by Kossoff but trickled through his legs and into the back of the net. Payne added an empty-netter to seal the victory.

Payne is now tied for the NCAA lead in goals scored this season. Troy Loggins is also tied for first in the nation in assists with four.

The Wildcats now travel to Big Rapids to take on Ferris State (1-1-0) to begin WCHA play this weekend. The Wildcats took the series last season 1-0-1.

Potulny credited Ferris for being a good team and hopes his team is prepared for the hostile environment at the small and intimate Ewigleben Arena.

“They’re a different team to play in their own rink,” he said. “They’re really good in a lot of areas of the breakout and the penalty kill. So there are some areas we’re going to need to prepare our guys for. They’re a good hockey team, they’re well coached, so we have to prepare our guys to go into a rink that’s a hostile environment and played right in front of your nose.”