Dreadful first period drops NMU to 0-1 in conference play with 5-0 loss to fifth-ranked Mankato

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RANKED ROUTE—NMU Hockey had its work cut out in against the fifth-ranked Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks, and MSU costed to a 5-0 win with a four-goal first period. Travis Nelson/NW

Travis Nelson

Thirteen shots was all it took for Minnesota State-Mankato to score four first period goals en route to a demolition of the NMU Hockey team at the Berry Events Center on Saturday night, Jan. 2. The USCHO nationally fifth-ranked Mavericks got two power-play goals from sophomore forward Nathan Smith and junior forward Julian Napravnik, and forced a Wildcat goaltender change from redshirt-junior Connor Ryckman to junior Nolan Kent only 10 minutes into the game. 

Slow starts have officially become a problem for NMU (2-3, 0-1 WCHA), having trailed a combined 7-0 at the first intermission in its last two games. The Wildcats were able to comeback to win 6-5 in overtime after trailing Ferris State on Wednesday, Dec. 30, but the Bulldogs are not the same nationally ranked powerhouse as MSU.

“Before the game, I was looking at some stats and some things; 49-8-6 (NMU’s record under Potulny) when we score first. [We] talked about it, and I don’t know why that is,” Head Coach Grant Potulny said. “Tonight it was the culmination of the whole game from the start or the finish. I didn’t think we played much differently, but it’s really hard to play from behind.”

The Wildcats didn’t give themselves many opportunities to cut the deficit with only six total shots in the final two periods after totaling 10 in the first period alone. MSU outshot the ‘Cats 34-16 in a game where Potulny said that the Mavericks were better at every position. Potulny spoke prior about the team’s penalty kill being able to overcome the penalty woes, but after giving up two goals in two tries against MSU’s power-play, the penalties proved to be costly. The NMU penalty kill finished 3-6 for the game, and the team’s power-play went 0-4. 

Potulny was pressed in his postgame press conference to come up with positives of the first game of the doubleheader with MSU, and all he could come with was that his captain senior forward Joseph Nardi played hard and that he thought Kent played well replacing Ryckman at goalie. Despite the lopsided performance, one negative stood tall over the rest.

“One thing needs to change and that’s how hard you play the game. That’s the biggest thing that has to change. We’re going to play that way here and along the way, we’re going to find a way to play that way whether it’s through practice, through the game or whatever it is,” Potulny said. “Tonight isn’t acceptable in our program and either you adjust ice time or you adjust players and you push. In practice, it’s meant to be an area where you get better at different areas of your game, it shouldn’t be an area that you have to continually worry about, coaching effort. Effort’s something you should never have to coach, and that’s the disappointing part.”

The response for the rematch on Sunday, Jan. 3 will be lineup changes for the ‘Cats, and lots of new players will be in the lineup, Potulny said. How hard the Wildcats play in the eyes of Potulny and how fast they start are things to watch in game two. Puck drop between the Mavericks and Wildcats takes place from the Berry Events Center at 4:07 p.m.