EAST LANSING, Mich. – Emotions ran high in the hard fought battle between the Northern Michigan University Wildcats (12-15-2, 11-11-2-0 CCHA) and the Michigan State University Spartans (12-16-4, 8-14-2-0 CCHA) on Saturday, Feb. 12, at Munn Ice Arena. The ‘Cats overcame a three goal deficit to beat the Spartans 6-5 in regulation play in what was the last regular season meeting for Walt Kyle and his hockey ‘Cats against long-time head coach Rick Comley. Comley coached the ‘Cats from 1976 to 2002 before he made the move to Michigan State and back on January 25, 2011, Comley announced his retirement from Michigan State, effective at the end of the 2010-11 season.
The Wildcats found themselves down by two goals after 20 minutes of play, but they still had their heads up after playing one of their best periods of hockey this season. At the 8:17 mark of the first period Brett Perlini came down the slot to bury the puck, off the rebound, past Wildcat goaltender Jared Coreau. Coreau had 50 shots the night before (Feb. 11) to earn the Saturday (Feb. 12) start. The ‘Cats responded on the ensuing shift with a goal of their own as Erik Spady scored his first goal of the year at 12:31 of the first period on a shot from the right circle. Just 25 seconds later the Spartans put themselves in the lead again as Chris Forfar beat Coreau on a shot from the right face-off circle to gain the lead at 2-1. The Spartans then scored the final goal of the period 29 seconds later at the 13:25 mark as Jake Chelios scored on the rebound to put the Spartans up 3-1. After the goal scoring hiatus Walt Kyle made a goalie change by substituting Reid Ellingson for Coreau in an effort to change the momentum of the game. The Wildcats closed out the period by killing off two Spartan penalties.
The second period didn’t start out as the Wildcats had hoped, but after allowing one goal Wildcat Tyler Gron went on to scored an uninterrupted hat trick of his own. After the puck took an unlucky bounce over the stick of Wildcat defenseman Erik Spady, Anthony Hayes was left wide open on his way up the left side. Hayes put a shot over the blocker of Ellingson to increase the Spartan lead to 4-1 at 1:33 of the second period. Both teams settled into play until Gron put in the first of his three goals at 10:10 as he put a shot on net that was saved by Drew Paisano but came out and deflected into the goal off of the skate of a Spartan defender. The goal was Gron’s 14thof the year, was unassisted on the power play, and put the ‘Cats down 4-2. The Wildcats were able to cycle the puck in the Spartan zone for more than a minute and eventually Greger Hanson made a great pass across the middle that made its way to Gron who beat Paisano for his second goal of the night. Nick Kosinksi was credited with the other assist on the goal that came at 19:15 of the second period putting the ‘Cats down 4-3.
Just 1:39 into the third period Gron completed his hat trick with a shot from the left faceoff circle that made its way through traffic and past Paisano. Kyle Follmer and Austin Handley earned assists on the goal that tied the teams at four goals apiece. The Spartans responded with a goal of their own at 3:17 when Jake Chelios scored his second goal of the night on a wrap-around that beat the Wildcat defense and Ellingson, putting the Spartans in the lead again at 5-4. At 6:47 Gron put a solid shot on goal that Paisano saved, that deflected to Follmer just outside the crease and he put it over the shoulder of the Spartan goaltender. Hanson and Gron assisted on the goal.
The two teams continued to keep the pressure on but solid goaltending on either end kept both teams in the game. Spartan Jake Chelios was whistled for cross checking at 10:41 but the Wildcats were not able to connect on either of their two shots on the power play. At 16:31 Cherniwchan scored the game winning goal by burying a rebound off of a Stephan Vigier shot. The goal was Cherniwchan’s 7thof the year and the assists went to Vigier and Fernandez. The Spartans pulled out all stops, including the goalie, but were unable to tie the score. The ‘Cats went on to win in regulation, 6-5, after outshooting the Spartans 45-30.
Up next for the ‘Cats is a trip to Bowling Green, Ohio, for a two-game series on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 18-19. The ‘Cats are in desperate need of points in order to host games in the first round of the CCHA play-offs which feature teams placed six through eight hosting teams finishing nine through eleven. After the dust settled on Saturday night (Feb. 12), the ‘Cats are in a three-way tie for sixth place in the CCHA with Lake Superior State and Alaska. The ‘Cats are three points behind number five Ferris State and four points ahead of number nine Ohio State.