Hockey’s season comes to an end with 8-1 loss to No. 1 Mankato in CCHA semifinals


GAME OVER—NMU forward Andre Ghantous controls the puck during the Wildcats’ 8-1 loss to #1 Minnesota State-Mankato. The Wildcats’ season comes to an end with a record of 20-16-1. Photo courtesy of NMU Athletics.

Travis Nelson, Sports Editor

The long and winding season that was for the Northern Michigan University hockey team has come to an end with an 8-1 road defeat at the hands of No. 1 Minnesota State-Mankato in the CCHA Tournament semifinals this past weekend.

The Wildcats (20-16-1) were coming off of a first round series victory against Lake Superior State and were looking to pull off a semifinal upset over the Mavericks for the second consecutive year. However, Mankato (34-5) is playing on another level right now and their elite offense showed out with eight goals.

“To be honest, I don’t know if any team in the country could’ve come here and beat them the way they played (Saturday),” NMU coach Grant Potulny said. “You have to tip your cap, coming in we knew we’d have to get some bounces, and we didn’t get any (on Saturday).”

Potulny mentioned prior to the game how important a fast start would be, and he was proved right. Unfortunately, it was the Mavericks getting off to that good start, putting the ‘Cats behind early. Forward Connor Gregga scored an unassisted at 13:43 to put Mankato up 1-0, and the Mavericks scored again just 23 seconds later at 14:06 with a goal from forward David Silye off of a pass from defenseman Jack McNeely. Mankato led 2-0 at the first intermission.

The game got out of hand in the second period, as Minnesota State scored four goals. Forward Nathan Smith put the Mavs up 3-0 with assists from defenseman Jake Livingstone and forward Julian Napravnik at 5:08. NMU finally appeared to get something going with a goal from forward Alex Frye at 9:38 to cut the deficit to 3-1 off of passes from forward Andre Ghantous and defenseman Bo Hanson. 

However, Mankato got a fortunate bounce a little while later and was up 4-1 in a blink of an eye. Off of the glass, forward Ryan Sandelin was able to put one past NMU goaltender Charlie Glockner, and then the Mavericks’ offense poured it on.

“I thought early in the game, we had a couple of chances to score, and just for whatever reason, it didn’t fall,” Potulny said. “We killed a penalty, we were kind of going pretty good. We kind of clawed back a bit as much as we could’ve to 3-1, and then they had the play off the back wall that I thought was tough to come back from.”

Defenseman Andy Carroll and forward Will Hillman added goals to make the score 6-1 at the second intermission. A lot of different guys were stepping up for Mankato, and they showed why they’re the best team in the country heading into the NCAA Tournament.

“Those are shooters’ goals, those are elite shots, they had traffic in front of our goalie,” Potulny said. “I think Charlie Glockner, who had a great freshman season, I think he felt bad about them. But when they’re kissing the pipe and going in, their sticks were in, their top guys had good games, and it’s tough when guys have sticks like that in a game tonight.”

Glockner was replaced with Nolan Kent in the third period, and Minnesota State didn’t stop there. Add two power play goals from Napravnik and defenseman Wyatt Aamodt in the third, and there was an 8-1 score. Potulny thought heading into this game that his team was as dialed in as they had been all season, but the Mavericks haven’t lost since mid-January for a reason. 

This season, the Wildcats had plenty of ups and downs to go around but were able to battle their way into the conference semifinals. The ‘Cats are going to miss the NCAA Tournament, but upon reflection with some of the wins they had, it’s worth remembering.

“We had some major highs and some major lows,” defenseman Ben Newhouse said. “(I’m) very proud of the group for what we’ve gone through with some injuries, especially our captain (Joseph Nardi), it’s a difficult thing to go through. It’s difficult to lose this way, but on the same token, there are 14 teams that won 20 games this year, and we were one of them.”