MARQUETTE, Mich. – The Northern Michigan University hockey team begins its 37th season with an exhibition game against Brock University on Sunday, Oct. 7 at the Berry Events Center to open the 2012-13 campaign.
Coach Walt Kyle enters his 11th season with the Wildcats and returns 18 lettermen from a season ago, including 10 forwards, all seven defenseman and one goaltender. The Wildcats finished 17-14-6 overall in 2011-12 and were sixth in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association with a record of 11-11-6.
“We have a much more experienced team this year than we did a year ago,” Kyle said. “I think our depth is much greater and it remains to be seen if we can cover some our losses up front. This season’s success will rely on how far the leadership and upperclassmen will take the team.”
The CCHA enters its final year of existence after 41years. NMU will rejoin the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in 2012-13 along with current CCHA members Alaska Fairbanks, Bowling Green State, Ferris State and Lake Superior State. Current WCHA teams Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State, Mankato will also be members. The slogan for the 42nd and final season of CCHA hockey is “Celebrate the Legacy.” NMU was a member of the WCHA from 1984-97 during which time it won its NCAA title in 1991.
“The CCHA has been a great league in college hockey,” Kyle added. “It has been, and will continue to be through this year, very competitive with some of the best teams and coaches in the country. I’m proud to have been able to play and coach in this league and it’s sad that this is the final year.”
NMU returns 11 forwards and adds six newcomers after the loss of veterans Justin Florek, Tyler Gron and Andrew Cherniwchan, who are all currently playing professional hockey.
Senior Matt Thurber, junior Stephan Vigier and sophomore Reed Seckel will lead the group up front. Thurber had 11 goals and 19 assists last season and is the top returning point getter. Vigier was four points back with 13 goals and 13 assists. Seckel finished the year with 20 points on eight goals and 12 assists. Vigier and Seckel will serve as the assistant captains.
Also returning at forward are seniors Kory Kaunisto and Brian Nugent, juniors Erik Higby and Jake Johnson and sophomores Ryan Daugherty, Ryan Kesti and DJ Vandercook.
“Ryan Daugherty really emerged as a solid player in the second half of the year,” Kyle sad. “He gives us some size and strength. Seckel and Higby are going are going to be counted on to have to have much better years. Some of the spots up front will be filled by some young first-year guys, and they’ll have come and play quality minutes and contribute.”
Freshmen forwards include Cohen Adair, Ryan Aynsley, Aaron Leach, Robert Lindores, Darren Nowick and Justin Rose.
Seniors Kyle Follmer and Scott Macaulay lead a very experienced group of defensemen. Juniors Austin Handley, CJ Ludwig and Wade Epp along with sophomores Mitch Jones and Jake Baker make up the seven returning blueliners. Sophomore Nate Taurence sat out last year after transferring from St. Scholastica.
Follmer finished last season with 26 points on four goals and 22 assists. Macaulay, this year’s team captain, had 14 assists and three goals.
“Our strength will be the experience we have on the blue line and in goal,” said Kyle. “Jones and Baker got a lot of minutes as freshman and Epp and Ludwig were in the same situation the year before.”
The incoming defenseman is Ryan Trenz. Newcomer Luke Eibler isn’t eligible this season after transferring from Northeastern.
Junior goaltender Jared Coreau will be the starter after last season when he posted a record of 12-7-2 with a 92.8 save percentage and a 2.22 goals against average. Freshmen Michael Doan and Mathias Dahlstrom will be his backups.
“Coreau took over the starting role last year and will be one of the top goaltenders in college hockey this year, playing behind a solid defense,” said Kyle.
NMU plays a 37-game schedule with 16 at the Berry Events Center. Like the 2006-07 season, the Wildcats open the regular season with a home series against Wisconsin at the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wis. Northern plays its full non-conference schedule against teams from the WCHA with series against Wisconsin, Nebraska-Omaha (Oct. 19-20), Michigan Tech (Dec. 4, Feb. 12) and St. Cloud State (Feb. 4-5).
“Every year we get a really tough schedule right out of the gate,” Kyle said. “The travel is unbelievable during the first 10 games. The Tuesday night games with Tech were the only common dates we both had available and we needed the rivalry to continue.”
NMU’s home conference series are Notre Dame (Oct. 26-27), Michigan (Nov. 2-3), Alaska (Nov. 23-24), Miami (Jan. 11-12), Ohio State (Jan. 18-19), Ferris State (Feb. 8-9) and Lake Superior State (March 1-2).
CCHA road trips this year are to Miami (Nov. 9-10), Ohio State (Nov. 16-17), Western Michigan (Nov. 30-Dec. 1), Lake Superior State (Dec. 14-15), Alaska (Jan. 25-26), Michigan State (Feb. 15-16) and Bowling Green (Feb. 22-23).
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