Season defining series upcoming for Ice Hockey

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Ryan Spitza

The last time the Northern Michigan University and Michigan Tech Hockey teams met, it ended in heartbreak for the Wildcats with a 2-0 loss to the rival Huskies in the WCHA Championship Game on March 17.

Now NMU (6-9-0, 5-3-0 WCHA) returns to the Berry Events Center after a three-game road trip before last weekend’s bye week to host the Huskies this Friday for the first time since the championship game, before traveling to Houghton for Saturday’s matchup at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

NMU head coach Grant Potulny said the off-week was nice before heading into rivalry weekend against a Huskies squad that’s 8-5-1 overall and unbeaten in conference play at 7-0-1.

“They’re playing great and they don’t have a blemish on their record in the league,” Potulny said. “We’re coming off of an off-weekend so we have to get our legs underneath us. It’s such an emotional rivalry that I know I’m excited for [it] and the players are too.”

Potulny, in his second season as the Wildcats’ bench boss, better understands what the rivalry means for both schools as well as the Upper Peninsula this season.

“I think I have a better idea of what it is now too,” Potulny said. “You almost have to live it and now I think I have a better idea of it and just trying to keep our emotions in check throughout the course of the game is going to be important.”

Michigan Tech is led by senior forward Jake Lucchini, who has six goals and 10 assists on the season, good for 29th in the NCAA in overall scoring. The Huskies will also bring the 14th highest scoring offense in the nation, averaging 3.36 goals per game.

On the other side, the Wildcats have struggled to find the back of the net in the first half of the season. NMU has scored just 27 goals through 15 games, an average of 1.80 per game which ranks 55th out of 60 Division I teams.

The Wildcats have been tighter on the defensive side of things sitting at 16th nationally in goals scored, allowing just 35 against this season with a penalty kill that has managed to be successful 82 percent of the time.

Part of that defensive credit goes to senior goaltender Atte Tolvanen, who has a goals-against-average of 2.28 per game and a save percentage of 0.920.

The Wildcats lead the all-time series with the Huskies 72-63-14, holding a 40-25-6 mark at home and a 30-34-8 mark in Houghton.

Puck drop in Marquette is set for 7 p.m. on Friday before the teams turn around and go to Houghton for a 7:07 p.m. puck drop on Saturday. Both games will be broadcast on FOX UP.