Hockey doomed by first period in 4-1 loss to #1 Mankato in series finale


BACK DOWN TO EARTH—NMU defenseman Ben Newhouse shoots the puck in the second period during NMU’s 4-1 loss to #1 Minnesota State-Mankato. The Wildcats won on Friday in the series opener, but the Mavericks came to play in the second game. Travis Nelson/NW

Travis Nelson, Sports Editor

Friday night was a feel-good story for the Northern Michigan University hockey team with an upset 4-2 win over the nation’s top ranked team, Minnesota State-Mankato. However, Saturday proved to serve a slice of humble pie for the ‘Cats in a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Mavericks.

NMU (13-9-1, 7-8-1 CCHA) picked up its third win of the season against the current #1 ranked team, and that could go a long way if the Wildcats can finish strong down the stretch in hopes of the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010.  The Mavericks (21-5, 15-3 CCHA) are on top of the college hockey world for a reason and showed their usual colors in Saturday’s match-up.

Three first-period goals did Northern in, and the result was individual defensive breakdowns around back-up goalie Charlie Glockner. NMU coach Grant Potulny said Glockner deserved a chance to get a start after serving behind Rico DiMatteo this year, and despite the loss, came out of it with a strong 28-save game. 

“Our lows can’t be as low as they are, and I’m talking individually,” Potulny said. “We had some players that if you’re not feeling it sometimes, what you have to do as a player, is find a way to help the guys who are playing well. I felt like we had too many guys kind of going one direction or another tonight instead of playing together.”

The game spiraled out of the Wildcats’ control early with Mankato striking first just 1:54 in with a goal from forward Ondrej Pavel. With a delayed penalty ensuing, the Mavs capitalized on the 6-on-5 opportunity, and took the lead. The ‘Cats killed that power play, but couldn’t kill the next as MSU went up 2-0 with forward Cade Borchardt’s score at 8:29. The nation’s top team continued to get 2-on-1 looks in front of the net, and found the back of it for a third time in the period at 18:26, with this time forward Ryan Sandelin chiming in.

Despite the dreadful period, NMU still had a chance to win this one. After a scoreless second period by both teams, the Wildcats cut Mankato’s lead to 3-1 at 6:50 on the power-play goal by forward Alex Frye. Minutes later, Northern went back on the powerplay following a roughing after the whistle penalty on Mankato. 

In a frustrating sequence, forward AJ Vanderbeck had a shot go off the inside of the left post and out, forward Hank Crone missed the net on a shot, the Mavericks killed the power play and scored another goal shortly after on the rush to put the game out of reach. Even without scoring on that power play, it felt like the Wildcats had the momentum with over 10 minutes left to play. However, when MSU forward Brendan Furry scored at 9:59, the game was effectively over.

“I don’t necessarily know that we gave ourselves the best chance to win the game, that being said, AJ [Vanderbeck]’s puck if that goes off the pipe and in, it’s a 3-2 game and things are different,” Potulny said. “That’s what we’re kind of talking about is the individual highs and lows, it’s a 2-on-1 from the blue line in and we turn it into a breakaway. Those are the moments that we have to start clearing up to give ourselves to win games when we don’t have our best. We didn’t have our best tonight [Saturday], but we were still in it right until the end. We were playing, we were coming.”

Potulny’s message was that the Wildcats had to get points every weekend for the rest of the season, and it’s been a key start after the break with a sweep of Colgate and a split with Mankato. With 10 conference games remaining to end the regular season, and four of five opponents on the brink of the NCAA Tournament, there are chances for NMU to get some games back in the CCHA standings and to re-enter the NCAA Tournament conversation.