MARQUETTE, Mich. — Special teams was stressed as a key to this weekend’s CCHA series between Northern Michigan and top-ranked Michigan State, and special teams won the game for the Wildcats as junior defenseman Sean Connolly netted a power-play marker at 9:44 in the third period to vault NMU to a 3-2 win in front of a sold out crowd of 3,909 at the Berry Events Center.
Northern Michigan (12-8-7, 8-7-6 CCHA) extended its home unbeaten streak to a season-high five games and remained unbeaten at home against the Spartans (21-3-4, 14-3-3) since rejoining the CCHA in 1997-98. Northern is 3-0-2 in its last five games, including a 2-0-1 mark in the last two weeks, while the ‘Cats have a 2-0-1 record against Michigan State in Marquette since coming back to the league.
Connolly’s goal, his third of the year, came 28 seconds into the Wildcat power play as Michigan State’s John-Michael Liles was serving a cross-checking penalty. Sophomore Bryce Cockburn put a shot of MSU netminder’s skate, and Connolly was there to put in the rebound in the slot. The score broke a 2-2 tie after Michigan State netted two markers in 15 seconds during the third period.
Miller made 26 saves in the loss, while Northern senior Dan Ragusett stopped 24 shots to give him his third win in his last four starts.
NMU senior Ryan Riipi gave the Wildcats a 1-0 lead 4:41 into the game, poking the puck underneath Miller, and senior Colin Young made it a two-goal advantage with 1:36 left in the second stanza on a blast from the top of the left circle that ricocheted off a Spatan defenseman’s stick.
The Spartans, which were outshot, 22-12, in the first two periods, needed 15 seconds in the third periord to tie the game at 2-2.
Adam Hall put MSU on the board at the 4:20 mark, while Joe Goodenow scored his first of the year off the back of Ragusett to tie the game at 4:35.
Connolly’s marker gave the ‘Cats one goal in six power play attempts. The Spartans finished the game 0-for-6.
The Wildcats snapped a four-game losing streak to the Spartans with the win, and were hosting MSU for only the second time since returning to the CCHA.
The two teams will conclude the series on Saturday, with opening faceoff slated for 7:05 p.m. at the Berry Events Center on the NMU campus.