Hockey advances to CCHA semis with series win over Lake Superior State

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STAYING ALIVE—The NMU hockey team celebrates a goal earlier this season. The Wildcats’ season continues onto Mankato for a CCHA semifinal game this weekend after they dispatched Lake Superior State in the first round. Travis Nelson/NW

Travis Nelson, Sports Editor

The Northern Michigan University hockey team lives to fight another series by winning two of three games on the road against the Lake Superior State Lakers this past weekend in the CCHA Tournament quarterfinals.

Both teams alternated wins in the series with the Wildcats taking a 5-1 win on Friday, and the Lakers tied the best-of-three games at one win apiece with a 3-2 victory on Saturday. In the winner take all game three, NMU blasted in four second period goals and hung on for the 5-4 win.

“It was such a gutty effort, down 3-1, I actually thought we were playing pretty well,” NMU coach Grant Potulny said. “But in those games, it becomes hard to keep your emotions in check because your mind can go to the inevitable.”

The Wildcats had lost three of four match-ups with the Lakers in the regular season, but came through against LSSU when it mattered most. The postseason series between the two U.P. rivals was a physical one, and the officials didn’t call much, leaving it to the players to decide who would come out on top.

“(The) refs kind of let us play, and it was a hard-fought series, really hard-fought series,” Potulny said. “There were times that I felt like it set the game back 30 years because it was cross-check and hook and hold and punch. That hasn’t been favorable for us, but we talked about being tougher since Christmas for that moment right there.”

NMU now moves on to the CCHA semifinals with a road tilt against #1 Minnesota State-Mankato on the horizon. The first round was best-of-three, but the semifinals and finals turn into a one-game series. The ‘Cats currently sit two games away from the NCAA Tournament, but will have to go through the Mavericks to set up a road CCHA finals against the winner of the other league semifinal between Michigan Tech and Bemidji State. 

The Wildcats defeated the Mavericks last year in this exact same format, but were upended in the WCHA championship by Lake Superior State. A preview on this weekend’s game will be out on Friday. Puck drop for the semis between Mankato and NMU is slated for 7:07 p.m. on Saturday.