Valiant comebacks fall short of wins

RETURN+OF+THE+COMEBACK+%E2%80%98CATS%E2%80%94The+Wildcats+and+Huskies+await+a+face-off+during+St.+Cloud+State%E2%80%99s+5-4+overtime+win+on+Saturday%2C+Nov.+9+at+the+Berry+Events+Center.+Jackie+Jahfetson%2FNW

RETURN OF THE COMEBACK ‘CATS—The Wildcats and Huskies await a face-off during St. Cloud State’s 5-4 overtime win on Saturday, Nov. 9 at the Berry Events Center. Jackie Jahfetson/NW

Travis Nelson

Two games in two nights saw the Wildcats’ Hockey Team face a three-goal deficit against St. Cloud State University (SCSU). Fans left early, and the ones who stayed were quiet. That was until the ‘Cats rallied and had the Berry Events Center roaring like never before.

With only nine minutes remaining in the first game of the series on Friday, Nov. 8, the Wildcats trailed 3-0. However, the game completely changed when SCSU had two five-minute major penalties within 17 seconds of each other. These penalties on the Huskies gave NMU a 5-on-3 advantage for five straight minutes, and the Wildcats capitalized.

“I’ve never seen a five minute 5-on-3, or ever heard of it in my life, so we got lucky,” Head Coach Grant Potulny said. “At that point, you’ve done all of your work already. It’s just guys have to execute, and the one unit did execute.”

NMU didn’t take long to get on the board on the power play, as forward Vincent de Mey scored to cut the deficit to 3-1. Less than two minutes later, forward Andre Ghantous found the back of the net off of the Huskies’ goaltender’s skate to make the score 3-2. With less than six minutes to go, Ghantous scored again for his second goal of the game, and just like that the game was tied. The Berry went into a frenzy, NMU had done the unthinkable to come back and tie it up. After playing the five, final minutes of regulation with no scoring, the teams went                    into overtime. 

That didn’t see many chances for either side to win the game, as the defense ratcheted up. After five minutes of extra play with no scoring, the game ended in a 3-3 tie. Goalie John Hawthorne led NMU with 21 saves on 25 saves faced. The Wildcats fought all the way back from three goals down, but Potulny wasn’t too happy with how his team played overall.

“I’m not trying to be negative, but it’s just a fact of life that you can’t continue down this journey the way we have been and expect to just magically score every night. It’s not going to happen,” Potulny said.

SCSU came out physical and dominated defensively, but Potulny wasn’t surprised.

“They were the number one overall seed in the tournament two years in a row, we got beat in every aspect of the game tonight,” Potulny said. “We had five players (later mentioned Hawthorne as a sixth for his goaltending performance) make three plays, and that was the only reason that we got out of here with a tie. It seemed like the game meant more to them tonight than it did to us.”

The second and final game of the doubleheader on Saturday, Nov. 9, turned out to start just the same as Friday night’s match-up. The Huskies raced out to a 3-0 lead after one period of play, as the Wildcats once again started off slow. Nolan Kent started the game at goaltender for the ‘Cats, and was replaced in the first period by Hawthorne. NMU finally got some offense going in the second period, when Ghantous scored for the ‘Cats to cut the score to 3-1 with 15 minutes remaining. Another goal from SCSU however, gave the Huskies a 4-1 second intermission lead. 

Again as time ticked down, the Wildcats were in trouble again trailing by three goals in the third period. However, just when it seemed crazy for them to come back from three goals down the night before, they did it again. This time no power play was needed, the Wildcats were outplaying SCSU full strength. Goals by Luke Voltin and Griffin Loughran within one minute and 11 seconds of each other cut the Huskies’ lead to 4-3. 40 seconds later, now on the power play, Ty Readman’s shot found the back of the net. NMU did it again, the score was tied 4-4 with nine minutes to go. In a scenario very similar to the first meeting, defense held up and for a second straight night, overtime hockey was played in Marquette. 

With 1:17 left in the extra period, SCSU scored the game-winning goal. NMU lost a tough one 5-4, and finished the weekend with an 0-1-1 record against the Huskies. Even though the result was worse in Saturday’s game, Potulny felt his team had played better in that one.

“Friday was probably a wake-up call, I don’t think we were nearly competitive enough. We didn’t start on time,” Potulny said. “You have to understand the situation of every team too, and they were a little bit of a wounded animal. I figured their coach was a little ornery, he definitely was and his players played like it.”

Potulny knows that his team needs to improve defensively, and he thinks that last weekend’s disappointing series got his team’s attention. A new challenge is up next for NMU, as they host University of Alaska-Fairbanks (UAF) with first place in the WCHA on the line. UAF is 6-6 on the year, including wins over Penn State University, Arizona State University and a sweep over Michigan Tech University. The Nanooks are playing good hockey, but Potulny is focused on fixing his team’s miscues this week.

“No disrespect to them at all, I don’t care who we’re playing this weekend,” Potulny said. “I wouldn’t care if it was Denver, who’s number one, Mankato who’s tied with them at number one, or who number 60 is in the pair-wise. This week’s about us, it’s about cleaning up those areas that we talked about continually for the past six games.”

Puck drop between the Wildcats and Nanooks is at 7:07 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 15 in the first game of a doubleheader from the Berry Events Center. The series finale takes place at 6:07 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16.