Last year, Northern Michigan’s season ended when Bowling Green took two of three games from the Wildcats in Marquette during the CCHA playoffs. It was deja vu for NMU, the second year in a row that the last-place Falcons had come into the Wildcats’ own rink and sent the home team packing in the playoffs.
Clearly, the Wildcats have bigger things in mind for this season.
“We have really good attributes,” coach Walt Kyle said. “Our team is built from the goal out.”
The Wildcats are wise to look to junior Jared Coreau to help them get past that end-of-season glitch. Not only were Coreau’s numbers good a year ago — 2.22 goals against average and .928 save percentage — but in the second half of the season, Coreau went 7-5-1 with two shutout wins.
“He’s a big kid who’s a real good athlete,” Kyle said. “He’s really grown technique-wise. He had All-American-like numbers from the second half on.”
In front of him, Kyle said the defense is likewise solid. Returning are seniors Kyle Follmer and Scott Macaulay, junior C.J. Ludwig and sophomores Mitch Jones and Jake Baker. Baker was an honorable mention pick for last year’s CCHA all-rookie team.
“We return our top seven defensemen from a year ago and we return a corps of forwards with a good, solid work ethic, a fairly veteran group, but not a lot of predictable offense and not a lot of guys who have scored a lot,” Kyle said.
Ah, it’s that unpredictable offense.
Lost to graduation are Tyler Gron and Justin Florek and their 36 goals. Senior Matt Thurber and junior Stephan Vigier return, but the front end of the Wildcats team is young.
“We’re going to have five freshman forwards in our lineup,” Kyle said. “Some of these guys are going to impact but I can’t tell you who because I don’t know at this point.”
Incoming freshmen Cohen Adair and Robert Lindores may be two of the players Kyle turns to for offense. Adair had 32 goals in 58 games for the Powell River Kings of the BCHL last season. Lindores spent five seasons in the BCHL, including the last two with the Surrey Eagles, where he went from having nine goals in 60 games his first season to 26 in 58 last year.
“We like our depth at center,” Kyle said. “I don’t know if we have maybe high, high first-line guys who are going to be able to put up huge numbers, but I think we’ll be able to put three high-caliber lines that can all chip in offensively. I like our balance and I like our depth.”
Kyle is counting character as well as depth as the Wildcats look to return to Joe Louis Arena and the NCAA tournament.
“I like the group of guys we have,” Kyle said. “They are extremely coachable. I like our leadership and our chemistry. Those are things to me that, at the end of the day, determine how good you do.”
About the Wildcats
2011-12 overall record: 17-14-6
2011-12 CCHA record: 11-11-6-3 (sixth)
2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Ninth
Key losses: F Andrew Cherniwchan, F Tyler Gron, F Justin Florek
Players to watch: F Matt Thurber, F Stephan Vigier, G Jared Coreau
Impact rookie: F Justin Rose
Why the Wildcats will finish higher than the coaches poll: Thurber and Vigier can score goals, and if others also chip in, the Wildcats will fare well against other mid-pack teams.
Why the Wildcats will finish lower than the coaches poll: Gron and Florek are gone. They will be difficult to replace.