Ice hockey continues battle against U.P. rivals

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Members of the NMU Men’s Ice Hockey team pose with the Cappo Cup after last weekend’s sweep of the Lake Superior State University Lakers. The trophy is awarded to the season series winner between the two teams.
Photo courtesy of NMU athletics

Ryan Spitza

From one Upper Peninsula rival to the next, the Northern Michigan University Ice Hockey team now looks ahead to Michigan Tech (MTU) on the final weekend of the regular season after a sweep of then-No. 18 Lake Superior State (LSSU) at the Berry Events Center last weekend to claim the Cappo Cup.

The Wildcats topped the Lakers 4-2 on Friday before a 5-3 victory on Saturday, winning the Cappo Cup which goes to the annual winner of the overall season series between NMU and LSSU, for a third straight season.

Northern is now 17-14-2 on the season and 16-8-2 in the WCHA.

NMU head coach Grant Potulny said it was one of the few weekends of the season that his team played well from puck drop on Friday to the final horn on Saturday.

“Last weekend was the first weekend I felt like we played two complete games,” he said. “We’ve played good games before, like maybe we played good one Saturday and then the next Friday we didn’t play well. This was our first complete weekend.

“I really feel like we got a lot of that confidence back that we’ve been lacking,” Potulny added. “Our top guys had a great weekend which is obviously very important going down the stretch.”

Sophomore forward Joseph Nardi scored the game-winning goal in Friday’s contest, which came shorthanded on a pass from freshman forward Griffin Loughran.

Nardi’s seventh goal of the season made the score 3-1 in favor of the Wildcats at the 8:34 mark of the second period. Senior defenseman Tony Bretzman also assisted on the play.

LSSU pulled within one goal just 1:08 later, getting a goal from junior forward Brayden Gelsinger for his ninth of the year.

The Wildcats got the goal back with 17 seconds to play in the second period, with Loughran earning a helper again. This time, Loughran threw a neutral zone backhanded pass to freshman forward Ty Readman for a breakaway chance. Readman beat Lakers senior goaltender Nick Kossoff to give NMU a 4-2 lead.

That score stood as the final, with NMU senior goaltender Atte Tolvanen stopping 22 of 24 shots. Kossoff had 27 saves on 31 Wildcats attempts.

Senior defenseman Philip Beaulieu and senior forward Adam Rockwood had NMU’s first two goals of the game, each their sixth of the season.

NMU’s top forward line consisting of Loggins, Rockwood and Pierce had an even better night on Saturday. The three combined for a nine-point night, with four goals and five assists.

Loggins scored the first two goals of the game before Pierce had the final two, including the game winner. All four of the Loggins and Pierce goals came with assists from Rockwood.

Freshman forward Garrett Klee had the middle goal for the Wildcats on an assist from junior forward Darien Craighead which made it 3-1 at the 2:12 mark of the second period.

LSSU managed to tie the game 3-3 going into the third on goals from Gelsinger and freshman forward Ashton Calder, before Pierce scored his two goals in the third period.

Tolvanen stopped 26 of 29 Lakers’ shots on Saturday, while LSSU sophomore goaltender Mareks Mitens stopped 23 of 28 NMU attempts.

Loggins’ five-point weekend was enough to earn him WCHA Forward of the Week, his first league honor this season. Loggins was also recognized by the NCAA, earning NCAA third star of the week.

Tolvanen was named WCHA Goaltender of the Week after a 48-save, .906 save percentage weekend. The award marks the fourth for Tolvanen this season, who sits just two games away from the school record for career appearances with 131.

Potulny credited the Loggins-Rockwood-Pierce line for their production over the weekend.

“I thought Troy played well, but the real driver was Rockwood,” he said. “They play so well together. When they’re both on, they’re dangerous. When they’re both on and Denver brings his level of physicality to that line, they’re as good as anybody.”

After the sweep of LSSU, the WCHA standings are tight toward the front with the Wildcats going into their home-and-home set with Michigan Tech this weekend.

No. 4 ranked Minnesota State-Mankato clinched the first seed in the upcoming WCHA tournament and home-ice throughout the playoffs.

Bowling Green State sits in second place with 52 points, followed by the Wildcats in third with 50, LSSU in fourth with 47, Bemidji State in fifth with 45 points and MTU in sixth with 43 points.

The Wildcats can clinch a home ice spot by earning two out of six possible points up for grabs against the Huskies this weekend.

NMU and MTU last met on Dec. 7 and 8, with NMU earning a 5-3 win at the Berry Events Center on Friday, highlighted by a historic goalie goal from Tolvanen before dropping Saturday’s contest at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena 3-1.

NMU leads the all-time series versus the Huskies 73-64-14, with a 41-25-6 home record and a 30-35-8 mark on the road.

Tech’s season has been average thus far, holding an overall record of 14-16-4 and a 13-10-3 mark in WCHA play. The Huskies are coming off of a home sweep of Alaska-Anchorage last weekend.

Potulny said winning Friday’s game will be a key to a successful weekend, but playing in Houghton is always a challenge in front of a rambunctious and passionate crowd.

“I’ve never won up there,” he said. “This group has never won there. They’ve won with [former head coach] Walt [Kyle], I’ve won there at my former job. I’ve never won up there with this group. The biggest challenge for us is to prepare to win a game on Friday night. It’s time for us to have a great effort and close the deal out. We’ve played well up there one time in three chances.
“We’ve got to slow them down,” Potulny added. “We can’t allow them in their building to have their fans get into it.”

Puck drop from the MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton is set for Friday at 7:07 p.m. before the teams turn around and meet at the Berry Events Center Saturday at the same time. Both teams will celebrate senior night. Friday’s game will be broadcast live on FOXUP while Saturday’s can be watched live on TV6.