Wildcats sweep Bowling Green Falcons

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The Wildcats bring it in for a team huddle after taking the Bowling Green Falcons into overtime, and defeating them 3-2. The team now prepares to take on Lake Superior State University. Photo by: Lindsey Eaton /NW

Ryan Spitza

The Northern Michigan University Hockey team is riding high in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) standings after a sweep of then- No. 14 Bowling Green State University at the Berry Events Center (BEC) last weekend.

The Wildcats defeated the Fal- cons in convincing fashion on Friday by a score of 5-2, before a dramatic overtime victory on Saturday by a score of 3-2. Soph- omore defenseman Philip Beau- lieu fired the puck past BGSU goaltender Ryan Bednard with just 6.9 seconds left in the extra frame, sending the BEC crowd into a frenzy and the Wildcats into second place in the WCHA standings.

It was the first time BGSU has been swept outright all season, and the first time BGSU has lost all season when scoring the first goal Saturday.

NMU head coach Grant Potulny said after Saturday’s contest that he had a gut feeling after the Falcons forced overtime on a late game-tying goal from freshman forward Cameron Wright.

“I turned to (assistant coach) Byron Pool and said ‘we’re going to win in overtime,’” he said. “I haven’t said that in any other overtime all year, I just had the feeling that our guys had a renewed energy.”

The Wildcats are now 13-10-3 on the season with a conference record of 11-5-2, and are 8-2 at the BEC this season.
As the team prepares for Upper Peninsula rival Lake Superior State this weekend, NMU sits eight points back of WCHA leader Minnesota State-Manka- to. If the Wildcats can pull two more wins this weekend, Manka- to’s lead will be cut to just two points as the Mavericks have a break from WCHA play with a non-conference tilt at No. 3 St. Cloud State.

The Wildcats and Lakers met to open the 2017-18 campaign back in October, splitting the home- and-home series. LSSU took the first game at Taffy Abel Arena on Friday night 5-3 in Potulny’s first game as head coach, before the Wildcats returned the favor at the BEC on Saturday with a 4-1 win.

Three months later, the Lakers are one of the most struggling teams in the country, with a record of 6-16-4 and 4-11-3 in conference play. LSSU also ranks 58 out of 60 NCAA Division I teams in the Pairwise rankings.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats have emerged as one of the surprise teams of the season both in conference and the country, earning quality wins over ranked opponents Wisconsin, Mankato, Boston College (shootout win, NCAA tie) and most recently BGSU.

That means it’s pretty safe to say this weekend’s series between the two foes will likely have a different look. With both games be- ing hosted at the BEC this time, Potulny hopes to continue the success in a building where his team has found it.

“It’s a rivalry,” he said. “I think in rivalry games you probably don’t have to give them much. It’s not even so much the wins, it’s the way we’re playing. Whatever happens in the game is go- ing to happen; whether you win or you lose it’s going to happen. I just hope we can find our game so we can have another good outing again.

“We’re viewed and judged on our wins and losses but playing the game the right way, playing Wildcat hockey, playing fast and competitive, I just want to see that and we now need to continue through that next weekend. Rivalry games are tough. They’re going to be tough games.”

News and Notes: Robbie Payne joins nine other WCHA players and 73 players across Division I as a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award, an award presented to the top player in NCAA Division I. Payne is tied for second in the country in goal scoring with 17 on the season. The last time an NMU player was nominated for the award was the 2015-16 season, with forward Dominik Shine and current goaltender Atte Tolvanen listed as the Wildcat representatives.

NMU came one vote shy this week of cracking into the national rankings for the second time this season, being the first team left out of the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Top 20 Poll with 70 votes.

The Wildcats and Lakers will play for the Father Cappo Cup this weekend, which is presented to the team who scores the high- er amount of goals throughout the season series. The Wildcats claimed the trophy last season, outscoring the Lakers 10-9 in a season series that went 1-1-2.

The Wildcats lead the all-time series versus the Lakers 67-41-13. Puck drop is set for 7:07 both nights at the Berry Events Center.