By Kyle Teasley
The Northern Michigan Wildcat hockey team (15-16-3, 12-12-2 Central Collegiate Hockey Association, tied 5th) will close out the regular season with a home-and-home series Thursday and Saturday (Feb. 28 and March 1) against Upper Peninsula rival Lake Superior State University (8-18-6, 6-15-5 CCHA, tied 10th) . On Thursday, the Wildcats travel to Sault Ste. Marie for a 7:05 p.m. contest. On Saturday, the action begins at 7:35 p.m. at NMU’s Berry Events Center in Marquette.
Possession of the Cappo Cup, given to the winner of the NMU-LSSU season series, as well as playoff positions are up for grabs in the series. NMU has a 2-0 lead in the Cappo Cup race having beaten the Lakers 4-2 at home and 3-1 on the road in the Nov. 23-24 series. The trophy is named in honor of the recently deceased Monsignor Louis Cappo.
The second silent auction fundraiser for the NMU hockey team will be held during Saturday’s game. Also, the drawing for the 4x4 will take place. After the game there will be a fourth-period reception at the Casa Calabria. Both games can be heard on The Bear (93.1 FM and 94.1 FM).
The Wildcats clinched home ice for the first round of the CCHA playoffs after last weekend’s 6-4, 4-3 overtime series sweep over Nebraska-Omaha. However, the ‘Cats would like to be at the top of the pile when the current four-way tie for fifth place with Bowling Green State, Ferris State and UNO – all with 26 points – shakes out. All four have earned home ice for the first round, but who each plays has yet to be determined.
Last week’s action, though, did provide more of the playoff picture. Michigan, Miami, Michigan State and Notre Dame captured first-round byes. Alaska, Ohio State, LSSU and Western Michigan will be the teams hitting the road for the first round. No matter who the fifth-place team turns out to be, it will play WMU.
Ironically, if the regular season ended last week, Northern would be meeting LSSU in the playoffs.
This weekend, Ferris State travels to face No. 1-ranked Michigan while Bowling Green hits the road to face off against the third-ranked MSU Spartans. If both Michigan and Michigan State are able to win those series combined with Northern taking the series against the Lakers, the Wildcats potentially could leap frog both Bowling Green and Ferris. A split with LSSU or a sweep by the Lakers, along with all of the numerous possible outcomes between the other current fifth-place teams, makes meeting Alaska, FSU, OSU just as likely possibilities. It would be far less likely, although not impossible, for NMU to face LSSU in the first round. It’s that time of year when a crystal ball would be helpful.
"With all four teams tied it really makes it difficult to predict who may be our first-round opponent,” said NMU Coach Walt Kyle. “I think the closeness in the standings reflects how balanced the CCHA is and shows how difficult it is to pull away from each other over the course of the regular season.”
NMU has won or tied seven of its last eight games, which included matchups with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Nebraska-Omaha. Sophomore goalie Brian Stewart (Burnaby, B.C.) has come on strong in those four series to give the ‘Cats momentum in February after a dismal January when Northern went 2-5.
Senior forward Matt Siddall (North Vancouver, B.C.) attributed the success against Nebraska-Omaha last week to the fact that the team is still fighting, "It’s a good testament to the guys in the room and the coaching staff that we haven’t given up.”
Siddall was named the CCHA Offensive Player of the Week for his six points in the UNO series. He had a goal and three assists in the first game and two goals the following night. This year, Siddall ranks third on the team in goals with 12 and third in points with 26 (12-14). Junior forward Nick Sirota (Beaver Dam, Wis.) leads the Wildcats in scoring with 31 (16-15) points followed by freshman forward Mark Olver (Burnaby, B.C.) with 29 (14-15).
The Lakers have also come on strong as of late, winning or tying seven of their last nine games, although their success came against Ohio State, Ferris, Western and Alaska and their two losses to Michigan. Last week, LSSU beat the UA Nanooks 2-1 and 5-3 at home. The Lakers are led in scoring by senior forward Dan Eves with 22 (8-14) points and sophomore forward Zac MacVoy with 21 (8-13).
According to Kyle, the idea of giving up would not be uncommon with a young team. However, he continues to stress that it’s not about results as much as how the Wildcats play.
"With our young team we are trying not to focus on winning, instead on quality of play. I believe if you can get your team playing to the top of its game then at playoff time you give yourself the best chance at success. That is our point of focus going into the playoffs,” said Kyle.
Tickets for Saturday’s game versus LSSU, as well as tickets for the CCHA best-of-three, first-round playoff series on March 7-9 are on sale at the NMU Ticket Office in the Superior Dome and all EZTicket outlets or online at www.nmu.edu/tickets.
Director of Communications