Wildcats earn a home WCHA playoff game


Freshman defenseman Robert Fosdick carries the puck up from behind the NMU net. Fosdick has four points this season through 24 games played, including one goal.

Ryan Spitza

The Northern Michigan University Hockey team split with Alabama-Huntsville (UAH) last weekend, bringing its seven-game win streak and eight-game unbeaten streak to an end.

NMU started Saturday’s game with all the momentum, controlling the puck and shooting the game’s first four shots. Senior forward Robbie Payne disrupted a pass while on a penalty kill and found fellow senior forward Zak Diamantoni, who scored his fifth goal of the season, and put the Wildcats on the board first. Payne picked up his eighth assist of the season as he continues to jockey for a position in the Hobey Baker Award race for the NCAA’s top men’s ice hockey player.

With Diamantoni’s first period goal, NMU now leads all of college hockey with seven shorthanded goals this season.

Freshman forward Joseph Nardi extended NMU’s lead early in the second period, collecting another special teams goal, this time converting on the power play for his seventh goal of the season.

Alabama-Huntsville picked up a goal soon after, slashing NMU’s lead to one goal.

Freshman forward Mitchell Slatterly scored another Wildcat power-play goal, his first collegiate goal, at the 18:34 mark of the second period. Slatterly picked up two points Saturday night, as he also picked up an assist on Nardi’s goal.

Huntsville scored two unanswered goals to tie the game at three with 11 minutes left to play in the third period.

Junior forward Troy Loggins netted the ’Cats’ fourth goal of the game with nine minutes remaining, his 16th goal of the year. Junior forward Adam Rockwood picked up his NCAA-leading 26h assist of the season on Loggins third period goal. Rockwood is tied for the WCHA’s point lead, with 28 conference points and is 10th nationally with 34 points overall.

Loggins was named the WCHA’s offensive player of the month in January, scoring eight goals to go along with five assists while scoring multiple points in four of eight contests. NMU compiled a record of 6-1-1 in January, and now sit alone in first place.

The Wildcats held UAH to one shot on goal for the rest of the game and would take the victory, 4-3.

NMU ran into a brick wall with UAH junior goaltender Jordan Uhelski, who turned away 34 of 36 shots to salvage the weekend split.

Sophomore defenseman Philip Beaulieu scored his ninth goal of the season and Payne scored his team-leading 18th goal of the year.

The victory Saturday clinched home ice for the Wildcats in the first round of the WCHA play-offs. It will be the first time the Berry Events Center (BEC) has seen playoff hockey in six years.

The Wildcats maintain first place in the WCHA standings with 52 points, but it’s down to a narrow one-point lead over Minnesota State-Mankato who trails behind with 51 points. Bowling Green State (BGSU) is in third with 49 points.

NMU head coach Grant Potulny said despite success and picking up wins, he still wants his team to improve.

“I thought we played fine on Saturday, and to be honest, the last four games I thought we played just OK,” he said. “We probably played our best game out of that whole sequence on Saturday, and out of that game we probably played the best third period we’ve had in a long time.”

With just four games remaining in the regular season, the Wildcats now shift their focus to Alaska-Fairbanks (UAF) (11-15-2, 9-12-1 WCHA) for a home series at the BEC this weekend.

With first-round home ice locked up and three of the next four games at home, there’s plenty more to play for. NMU can still earn second-round home ice with a second-place finish in the conference standings, or home ice throughout the entire tourna- ment with a first-place finish.

Reaching first place, however, will be a tall task ahead. The ’Cats likely need to win out, and need help as Mankato has two games in hand on both NMU and BGSU.

Looking ahead to this weekend, the Wildcats split with the Nanooks in Fairbanks back in November, taking a 5-3 win on Friday before falling 4-1 on Saturday.

Potulny said the Nanooks aren’t a team to take lightly late in the season.

“The first game we played them in up there, our power play was great,” he said. “We jumped out early and were opportunistic on Friday. To that point of the year, they had kind of been in a tough spot and that was the moment on Saturday that they were going to stand up and plant their flag. They played a very physical game and played well on Saturday.”

UAF is also jockeying for position in the WCHA standings. Currently sitting in seventh place, the Nanooks are trying to avoid a tight race to the finish line to stay in playoff positioning.

The Nanooks will have their hands full as well though, with the Wildcats going 10-2 at the Berry this season, and a building UAF hasn’t had much success in over the years. The Wildcats are 20-3-7 at home against the Nanooks all time.

Puck drop is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Berry Events Center.

Fans are encouraged to go to www.hobeybaker.com/vote to cast their ballot for Hobey Baker nominee, senior forward Robbie Payne. As of yesterday, Payne is second overall in fan voting, two percent points behind Adam Gaudette of Northeastern University. Fans can vote once every 24 hours, up until March 3, when the first fan voting phase ends. The top 10 point-getters will advance to phase two.