Wildcats’ hockey nets 5-3 win to sweep Ferris State

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‘CATS SWEEP THE ‘DOGS—The NMU Hockey team got back on the winning side this past weekend with two wins over Ferris State inside of the Berry Events Center. Travis Nelson/NW

Travis Nelson

It has been a long month of January for the NMU Hockey team, losing eight straight games. However, the Wildcats got back in the win column with two victories over Ferris State this weekend, including a 5-3 win on Saturday night.

The ‘Cats (4-10, 2-2 WCHA) are still right in the thick of things in the race for home ice in the WCHA Tournament, sitting at 2-2 in conference play. All four Wildcat wins this season have come against the Bulldogs (1-12, 0-8 WCHA), so it was a good time for Northern to live up to its fresh slate mantra and put up six league points.

“I thought tonight was, even though we kind of led or were tied the whole game, I thought it was a harder game for us tonight. Because we did have so many chances, especially early in the game, we had a lot of looks,” Head Coach Grant Potulny said. “We were kind of trying to pass it in the net and we weren’t getting chances, the power play wasn’t going. They score on the penalty kill, and some of those things, it was more of a mentally tough game than anything, so to find a way to kind of gut it out really.”

The offense was sharp for NMU, scoring five goals for the second straight night. Potulny said after Friday night’s win that the practice focus shifted back to the offense this past week, and it showed. After a scoreless first period for both teams, Wildcats’ sophomore forward Alex Frye scored a wraparound goal off of a feed from junior forward Vincent de Mey to put NMU up a 1-0 lead at 6:43 in the second. 

After the ‘Cats couldn’t score on a Ferris State penalty, a bad line change cost them a breakaway goal when FSU junior forward Justin Michaelian sped past the defense and tied the game up 1-1. Sophomore forward Andre Ghantous took the rebound off of FSU freshman goaltender Logan Stein’s pad and snuck in the five-hole to put the Wildcats back in front with over five minutes left in the period. 

‘Cats freshman Mikey Colella left the game late in the second due to an injury from Michaelian’s five-minute major kneeing penalty. NMU looked to capitalize, however freshman defenseman Noah Ganske committed an interference penalty, setting up a 4-on-4. Not long after all of the penalties were killed off, senior forward Brandon Schultz scored on the breakaway for NMU with assists from a pair of defensemen, Tim Erkkila and Ben Newhouse to give the Wildcats a 3-1 lead at the second intermission.

For the second straight night, the third period was chaotic in the scoring department. NMU sophomore defenseman Colby Enns took a breakaway early in the third period and shot over Stein’s left shoulder to extend the lead to 4-1 with only 16 minutes remaining. Ganske committed a holding penalty shortly thereafter, and freshman Mitch Deelstra capitalized on Ferris State’s power play with a goal to cut NMU’s to 4-2. The Wildcats were owning Ferris in the shot department, but the Bulldogs weren’t out of it just yet.

It appeared that NMU was well on its way to a comfortable win before a turnover on the ‘Cats side turned into a goal from junior forward Jake Transit for the Bulldogs with less than three minutes to go. Down 4-3, FSU went empty with 1:10 left before NMU junior forward Griffin Loughran, who returned to the lineup this weekend after missing time due to injury, buried the empty net with one minute left to seal the deal.

“Obviously, nobody likes losing, so to get two wins here and kind of get us going here, kickstart us for the second half of the year, it’s going to be huge,” Loughran said after the game. “So obviously, it was a job well done by everyone and we have to build on it.”

Five different NMU players scored goals on Saturday night, which is important because the ‘Cats need depth to win and can’t just count on a couple of guys every night, Potulny said. The team made some strides on offense and the rush (they had a couple of breakaway goals), and the number of blocked shots was a testament to how dialed in they were, he added. Junior goaltender Nolan Kent only faced a total of 24 shots, but made 21 saves and had some big ones down the stretch.

“I thought tonight was a complete effort, and I was very pleased with the team and [Kent] at the end. For him, it’s a hard game because you don’t see a lot of pucks in the third period,” Potulny said. “The pucks you do see because they’re very good at rush offense, can be tough shots, and in the end of the power play, he made a very big glove save, no rebound, and it allowed us to get a [line] change.”

Friday night’s 5-4 win felt like a relief, and in terms of building momentum for the coming weeks, Saturday’s game was one that they needed to have, Potulny said. With the final eight games on the schedule of Lake Superior State, Bemidji State, Bowling Green and Michigan Tech staring the Wildcats in the face, they’ll need all the momentum they found this weekend—and maybe more.

“Just keep doing what we’re doing, the name of the game is to win. Obviously, there’s stuff to clean up, when we play good team defense it leads to good team offense,” Loughran said. “So we have to keep that in the back of our mind for this upcoming weekend and during this week of practice, and just go from there.”