Hockey’s confidence growing after first round win at Bowling Green

CONFIDENT+CATS%E2%80%94The+NMU+Hockey+goes+for+the+puck+in+a+Feb.+27+game+against+Michigan+Tech.+The+Wildcats+have+played+much+better+as+of+late%2C+and+are+a+confident+bunch+after+defeating+Bowling+Green+in+the+first+round+of+the+WCHA+Tournament.+Travis+Nelson%2FNW

CONFIDENT ‘CATS—The NMU Hockey goes for the puck in a Feb. 27 game against Michigan Tech. The Wildcats have played much better as of late, and are a confident bunch after defeating Bowling Green in the first round of the WCHA Tournament. Travis Nelson/NW

Travis Nelson

The sixth-seeded NMU Hockey team entered the first round of the WCHA Tournament with a slim chance to defeat third-seeded host Bowling Green State University. But against the odds, the Wildcats took two out of three games from the Falcons to move on to the WCHA Semifinals.

NMU went 0-1-3 against BGSU in the regular season, but the Wildcats picked up the two wins when it mattered most. Not only is Bowling Green eliminated from the conference tournament, but the ‘Cats most likely took away any chance that the Falcons had of reaching the NCAA Tournament.

“I think it was just obviously a good team effort through all three games, definitely really tough to stay mentally and physically engaged through three games in three days,” freshman goaltender Rico DiMatteo said. “It can be wearing on us but I’d say more than anything it was just the belief that we could do it as a team, that if we kept doing the right things, eventually things were going to go our way.”

DiMatteo had a combined 108 saves in the three games, including 39 on 40 shots in Sunday’s deciding third game. The freshman’s performance didn’t go unnoticed by the coaching staff, and Head Coach Grant Potulny sung his praise.

“I thought he [DiMatteo] was the story of the weekend, we obviously got some scoring from guys who hadn’t been on the sheet for a little bit which is important, but even in the game that we gave up five [goals], I thought he played fantastic,” Potulny said. “He seemed really dialed in, to be honest the only game that I don’t think he played well in was the game up at Tech, but he had never been in the rink and he had never skated there. With the exception of that game, I think he’s been very good for us and he’s given us a chance to win every game.”

DiMatteo wouldn’t go that far, and he gave large amounts of credit to his teammates’ performances.

“I felt like I tried to keep it simple all weekend and just battle and compete and honestly I have to give credit to D-men in front of me, I mean they were incredible all weekend,” DiMatteo said. “We were short handed one of the three games and to just battle and block shots and kind of limit the grade A scoring chances like they did was absolutely incredible so I have to give them more credit than I deserve.”

The Wildcats won their two games by scores of 4-3 and 5-1, and had a 4-1 lead in the first one. The series didn’t go without hiccups for NMU, as they lost the second game in a similarly large margin, 5-0. That score might break road teams such as the ‘Cats were, but not this year’s NMU squad.

“After the game was over, you just remind the guys that it’s a series for a reason, it’s not total goals, it’s not sudden death, it’s a series,” Potulny said. “We got the first one, they got the second one and now we have to park it just like we did on Friday, we have to park it and tried to be prepared for what Saturday brought us.”

This all goes back to NMU’s mindset right now as a hockey team. Northern has gone through one of the more roller coaster seasons that you’ll ever see. However, this team has a belief in each other that has helped them get to the semis, DiMatteo said. The ‘Cats made headlines for their surprise win over BGSU, and were receiving votes in this week’s USCHO poll. 

“It’s super humbling as a team to receive votes after we felt like we didn’t have that respect from around the league and from around the nation I guess you could say,” DiMatteo said. “And after this weekend I think we earned some respect in the eyes of the league and the nation, so we’re going to the rest of the way, be showing everyone else that we deserve more respect than we get and we’re going to earn that.”

The Wildcats’ confidence is hitting its stride at the right time, and that can be attributed to the team’s high level of play as of late. The cliche of wanting to play your best at the end of the season fits what NMU is doing in March. From the best teams in the country to the worst, whoever is playing their best hockey is suited for a postseason run.

“It’s kind of one of my lines and I say it every year, because there’s lots of times where things are challenging through the course of the year and uncomfortable, and I’ve always said we’re coaching for the end of the year,” Potulny said. “This year more than ever was going to be about coaching for the end of the year.”