Wildcat hockey set to drop puck

%0AThe+2018-19+Wildcat+Hockey+team+photo+showcases+the+team%E2%80%99s+new+road+uniform.+%0APhoto+courtesy+of+NMU+Athletics

The 2018-19 Wildcat Hockey team photo showcases the team’s new road uniform. Photo courtesy of NMU Athletics

Alex Skinner

After advancing to the WCHA Conference Finals last year, the Northern Michigan University Men’s Hockey team is ready to make another run at the tournament championship.

The first roadblock for the Wildcats is a run in with in-state rival, the Michigan State University (MSU) Spartans this weekend from East Lansing. The Wildcats and Spartans have quite the history with one another, stemming from a time when the two teams were conference foes in the old CCHA Conference.

The Spartans have an overall record of 35-30-4 against NMU, but the Wildcats have the edge the past 20 meetings, holding a 12-6-2 record against MSU. The last time these two teams met was during the 2015 Great Lakes Invitational Tournament, when NMU edged the Spartans for a 2-1 overtime victory.

MSU is coming off their second straight season of finishing last in the Big Ten Conference.

Second-year head coach Grant Potulny is back behind the bench for the Wildcats after guiding the team to a 25-15-3 record a season ago, their largest win total since the 2001-02 season.

Senior forward Denver Pierce was promoted to team captain a week ago and will be joined by alternate-captains, senior forward Adam Rockwood and junior defenseman Philip Beaulieu.
Potulny is expecting big things out of his team, now knowing what their potential could be.

“I have a better idea of what guys are capable of,” he said. “I didn’t know a lot of the personnel here. You can look at numbers, but sometimes, they don’t tell you the whole story.

“Denver Pierce is probably a great example of a guy that had a great freshman year, kind of had the sophomore slump and found his way out of it,” Potulny said.

“This year I have a much better idea of where we’re at as a team.”

Returning on offense is dynamic senior forward Troy Loggins looks to build off of his team-leading 23 goals, including six goals in seven games during the run to the WCHA Conference Finals. Loggins finished second on the team in total points, finishing with 47.
Defensively the Wildcats posses one of the nation’s top defensemen in Beaulieu, a Second-Team-All-American. Beaulieu led all NCAA Division I defenseman with 42 points and assists with 31.

Anchoring the defensive line along with Beaulieu are seniors James Vermeulen, Ryan Black and Connor Frantti. Joining the Wildcats on defense this season is senior defenseman Tony Bretzman, a transfer student who spent his first three seasons at Notre Dame University. While attending Notre Dame his junior season, the Irish would win the Big Ten Hockey Championship and make a run to the NCAA Division I Frozen Four.

Returning in net is senior goaltender Atte Tolvanen, who is starting in net for the third season. He is ranked in the top-10 in every goaltender category in the NMU record book and was named a First-Team All-WCHA selection last season. As a sophomore, Tolvanen set the NCAA Division I record most consecutive shutout wins after recording five.

The Wildcats are projected by many to finish near the top of the WCHA conference again, but Potulny knows the ‘Cats have a target painted on their back this year.

“We got to sneak up on some people early last year,” Potulny said. “But I also don’t think the mindset of our team was the way it is now, where you expect to win. The preparation you put in and the price you are willing to pay to know that the payoff can be victory.”

The Wildcats kick off the season with puck drop at 7 p.m. on both Friday, Oct. 12, and Saturday, Oct. 13, in East Lansing from Munn Ice Arena.