Bring on Bemidji: second place up for grabs

WCHA+COLLISION+COURSE%E2%80%94The+Wildcats+fell+to+Minnesota+State-Mankato+this+past+weekend%2C+but+can+rebound+against+Bemidji+State.+Photo+courtesy+of+NMU+Athletics.

WCHA COLLISION COURSE—The Wildcats fell to Minnesota State-Mankato this past weekend, but can rebound against Bemidji State. Photo courtesy of NMU Athletics.

Travis Nelson

A two-game series isn’t typically a “must win” in the long regular season of college hockey, but this weekend is about as close as it gets for the NMU Hockey team.

After a lackluster series against Minnesota State University-Mankato on Friday, Feb. 7 and Saturday, Feb. 8, the No. 19 Wildcats (16-10-4, 14-7-1 WCHA) sit in third place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings. The No. 3 ranked Mavericks scored an unprescedented seven goals in Friday night’s opener, before holding on with a 1-0 victory over NMU in Saturday’s game. Minnesota State-Mankato has the first seed virtually wrapped up for the WCHA playoffs, it is up 11 points on Bemidji State University (BSU) and 18 points on the Wildcats with only six games to go.

Northern Michigan looks to rebound this weekend, but awaiting them is the second place No. 16 BSU Beavers (16-8-4, 16-4-2 WCHA) for a series at the Berry Events Center on Friday, Feb. 14 and Saturday, Feb. 15. 

NMU trails BSU by seven points, thus needing two wins this weekend to cut the deficit to only one point. The ‘Cats are aware of the importance of the series, as hosting two rounds instead of one in the WCHA Tournament is a big deal. Not only is this weekend a big deal, Head Coach Grant Potulny said that this could be the biggest series of the entire season.

“I would say so, I mean even going into the second half, you look at the standings, and we went on a bit of a run. You’re watching what they’re [Bemidji State] is doing, and thinking that they got a tough schedule coming up. From afar, you’re thinking they might give one up and put you in a chance to be able to catch them this weekend, but they’ve just kept winning,” Potulny said. “Where we’re at in the standings, and where we’re at with the schedule, for us to finish second, we have to have a huge weekend.”

The Beavers enter its match-up with Northern Michigan on a three-game winning streak, including a 4-2 road win over Minnesota State-Mankato on Saturday, Jan. 25. BSU has been good in past years, but this year, they’re a different hockey team.

“They’re the best structure-based team for sure in our league, and top two or three in college hockey. Their sticks are on the rink, they’re never out of position and are a very, very well-coached team defensively, disciplined team,” Potulny said. “The reason that they’re better this year than they’ve been in the past is that they’re generating more offense, scoring more on the power play and scoring more on the rush.”

NMU finished last weekend’s series against Mankato a total of 1-11 on the power play, that’s hard to overcome against good hockey teams. After seeing that stat along with giving up seven goals in the series opener, Potulny realized the two things that his team needs to improve against BSU.

“We’re going to have to score on the power play, if you think you’re going to get three or for 5-on-5 goals, you’re kidding yourself,” Potulny said. “We have to defend like crazy, those are the two areas that I think we have to be better.”

The stakes are high in Marquette this weekend, Friday’s puck drop between the Wildcats and Beavers is slated for 7:07 p.m. This is as good of a chance as any for NMU to control its own destiny in its postseason push.