‘Cats tied for WCHA lead

%0AEXECUTING+THE+POWERPLAY%E2%80%94Junior+forward+Joseph+Nardi+crashes+the+offensive+end+of+the+ice+during+his+two+powerplay-goal+performance+in+the+Wildcats%E2%80%99+2-1+win+over+Alaska-Fairbanks+on+Friday%2C+Nov.+15.+Photo+courtesy+of+NMU+Athletics

EXECUTING THE POWERPLAY—Junior forward Joseph Nardi crashes the offensive end of the ice during his two powerplay-goal performance in the Wildcats’ 2-1 win over Alaska-Fairbanks on Friday, Nov. 15. Photo courtesy of NMU Athletics

Travis Nelson

  In a battle for first place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) standings, the NMU Hockey team split a home series with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (UAF) Nanooks.

Both games came down to the wire, with NMU winning 2-1 on Friday, Nov. 15, and UAF winning 3-2 on Saturday, Nov. 16. Head Coach Grant Potulny was pleased with Friday’s performance, and came away upset after Saturday’s loss. After reviewing the game’s film, Potulny said he feels good about the direction of the team.

“We’re kind of trending in the right way again, we had a great week of practice,” Potulny said. “I thought we played pretty good on Friday. [On] Saturday there were moments we had to change, but you have to flush it too.”

The ‘Cats got off to a fast start in Friday’s series opener, as two powerplay goals from junior forward Joseph Nardi gave them a 2-0 lead early in the game. UAF tried to claw back into it late in the game as a goal with 11 minutes left cut the lead to 2-1. However, the Wildcats fended off the Nanooks for the final half of the period, and held on for the victory.

Saturday’s game didn’t start out as well for NMU, as they trailed 2-0 within the first 10 minutes of the game. It was UAF who got an early lead and held on in this one. The Wildcats came back to tie it 2-2 behind goals by junior defenseman Ben Newhouse and sophomore forward Ty Readman in the second period. UAF scored four minutes later to take a 3-2 lead, and that would round out the scoring.

The split between UAF and NMU leaves them both in a three-way tie for the WCHA lead with Minnesota State University-Mankato, who are ranked No. 1 in the country. After a tight series, NMU has another huge series coming up. It just so happens to be against the arch-rival Michigan Tech University (MTU) Huskies.

“They defend like crazy, if you look at their numbers, they give up two goals a game,” Potulny said. “It’s hard to win as an opponent when you only score two. We have to find a way to generate offense, they’ve won three of their last four games.”

MTU comes into the series with a record of 5-6, including a sweep last weekend over the Lake Superior State University Lakers. The unique part of this rivalry is that it is a home-and-home series, where each team hosts one game of the two-game series. Potulny said he’s waiting to see how his team will react to being on the road for a game in nearly a month.

“I’m looking forward to a different environment, being home for a month is a long time. I’m excited to go on the road,” Potulny said. “I really look forward to this rivalry now that I can appreciate it to the level that I think being a part of it for three years now you understand it, and I think it’s a great time for us to play them.”

Puck drop between NMU and MTU in the first game of the series begins at 7:07 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22 in Houghton. The Wildcats host the second game at 6:07 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23 inside the Berry Events Center.