Wildcats leave bye-week focused on Tech

Wildcats leave bye-week focused on Tech

Alex Skinner

With one week remaining in the collegiate hockey regular season, teams toward the bottom are jockeying for playoff positioning. Northern Michigan sits in second place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, three points ahead of Bowling Green State University. But these Wildcats know they have another hurdle in front of them, their archrival Michigan Tech Universtiy (MTU).

“These games are huge,” said senior forward Zach Diamantoni. “Going into the playoffs, it’s also really great that we’re playing well when the series starts next week.”

NMU split both games with Tech earlier this season, with Tech taking the first meeting in Houghton 4-1 and NMU winning the following night 4-0.

Head coach Grant Potulny acknowledged that both teams weren’t playing their best hockey during their last meeting.

“I don’t think our competitive level was anywhere near where it needed to be,” said Potulny. “I don’t think either of us (Tech’s head coach) has seen the other team play well when they thought their team played well.”

NMU is well on their way to a memorable season, reaching 20 wins for the first time since the 2011-12 season with a chance to win 23 games for the first time since 2000.

But Diamantoni knows there’s still more the Wildcats have to prove.
“Us seniors, I don’t feel like we’ve had the success we’ve wanted to have in that series, and we really want to turn it around,” said Diamantoni.

Senior defenseman Jordan Klimek expects a high-paced battle this weekend.

“Every game against them is a battle. Lots of emotion, high intensity. Just a battle,” says Klimek. “They’re a team that’s always well coached, high speed, they’ll make you pay if you give them an opportunity. I know both buildings are going to be sold out, bumping. Those are the best games to play in.”

Those who aren’t familiar with the history of the NMU and Tech rivalry catch on quick. Anti-Tech hockey chants are heard at every home hockey game, regardless of the opponent. Locally, the rivalry can stretch through bloodlines, with family members attending both schools, making the rivalry personal for many families in the area.

Potulny was an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota before taking over head coaching duties at NMU. Before coming here, he only heard rumors of the rivalry, but understands it now.

“I just heard about it. I feel it now. You can feel it in the community and even [while] watching film,” said Potulny. “You could say that all three coaches here are laser on preparing to play a good hockey team.”
The two teams have competed in 134 meetings, with NMU leading the series with a record of 67-53-14.

Puck drop is Friday at 7 p.m. at the Berry Events Center.

Fans are reminded to vote for Robbie Payne for the Hobey Baker award presented to the NCAA men’s top ice hockey player. Go to hobeybakeraward.com/vote to cast your submission. Payne is in third place as of today, with the first round of votes ending March fourth, with the top 10 vote getters advancing.