MARQUETTE, Mich. – The Northern Michigan University hockey team looks to get back to its winning ways after having only its second losing season under Coach Walt Kyle in 2010-11. The Wildcats finished sixth in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association with an overall record of 15-19-5 and 12-13-3-0 in conference play and were bounced from the conference tournament by Bowling Green State. It was the earliest exit in the postseason since 1999-2000.
“We played a lot of guys who had little to no experience last season,” Kyle said. “We committed a lot of time to young players and we feel the experience that they gained will pay off for us this year. I feel much more comfortable going into this season.”
Kyle returns 15 letterwinners from a year ago, including his top three goal scorers in senior forwards Tyler Gron, Justin Florek and Andrew Cherniwchan. Gron led the team with 17 goals in 2011. He also had 15 assists to lead the team with 32 points. Seven of his goals came on the power play. He was named CCHA Offensive Player of the Week twice and has been named to the preseason CCHA Second Team. Florek finished the season with 14 goals and had 15 assists for 29 total points. He has appeared in 120 games as a Wildcat and was an honorable mention preseason conference pick. Cherniwchan was third in points with nine goals and 14 assists. He has appeared in 118 career games.
“We return some very good experience at the forward position,” Kyle said. “Gron, Florek and Cherniwchan have played a number of games and will be counted on to fuel our offense. Matt Thurber and Reed Seckel sat out last season and will be counted on and we have a number of young guys who will batter for playing time.”
Junior Thurber sat out last season after transferring from Wisconsin and sophomore Seckel went down early in the year with an injury. Other forwards returning are juniors Kory Kaunisto and Brian Nugent along with sophomores Erik Higby, Jake Johnson and Stephen Vigier. Three freshmen join the front line for the ‘Cats with the addition of Ryan Daugherty, DJ Vandercook and Dylan Walchuk.
Juniors Scott Macaulay and Kyle Follmer return on the blue line to anchor the Wildcat defense. Macaulay led the team in assists with 17 and plus minus last season. Sophomores Austin Handley, Wade Epp, Ryan Kesti and CJ Ludwig also saw action. Freshmen Jake Baker, Mitch Jones, Nathan Taurence and Eric Walker will add size to the back side.
“We return five defensemen and add three young defensemen who have very good size and strength for their age,” Kyle said. “The defense has gotten bigger and stronger and the freshmen will earn ice time as the year goes on.”
Reid Ellingson and Jared Coreau both return between the pipes. Ellingson, a senior, started 26 games and had a 91.6 save percentage. He was twice named CCHA Goaltender of the Week. Coreau, a sophomore, started 13 games in his first season. He had four games stopping over 40 shots and also earned twice weekly league honors. Senior Devan Hartigan will also battle for time between the pipes after playing third string last season and seeing action in six games in 2008-09.
“Every night we’re going to dress the best 20 guys and play the best 19,” Kyle said.
NMU was picked sixth in the CCHA Coaches Poll. The media picked the ‘Cats seventh in a tie with Ferris State. Notre Dame was the top pick with Miami, Michigan, Western and Alaska ahead of the NMU.
“Notre Dame is clearly the best team in the league,” said Kyle. “Michigan, Miami and Western Michigan are right behind the Fighting Irish and all those teams are always at the top of our league.”
The ‘Cats play a 35-game schedule with 18 games at the Berry Events Center and 17 on the road. NMU plays three non-conference series against Western Collegiate Hockey Association teams and opens the season at Wisconsin (Oct. 7-8) and then hosts St. Cloud State (Oct. 14-15). The ‘Cats play Michigan Tech in a home-and-home series and also host the Russian Red Stars in an exhibition game on Dec. 30. NMU plays home and away series with conference teams Lake Superior State, Miami, Michigan and Michigan State.
“We have a really good schedule this season and we play arguably one of the toughest schedules we’ve had in a long time,” Kyle added. “The conference teams that we play four times have a great history of success and are perennially quality teams in the CCHA.”
NMU’s first home game is set for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 against St. Cloud State at the Berry Events Center. All NMU hockey games can be heard on 100.3 FM “The Point”, the official radio station of the NMU Wildcats.
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