ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Should the Detroit Lions be worried?
New Detroit coach Steve Mariucci, a Northern Michigan alum, spoke to the Wildcats before their game vs. Michigan Saturday night.
Maybe Mariucci should have kept quiet. He certainly was quiet in the stands, as he watched his alma mater play its worst game of the season — a 5-1 loss.
The leader of the Michigan pep band danced with a broom at the end of the game, signifying the Wolverines’ first-ever series sweep of the Wildcats. Michigan won 3-1 Friday.
The Wildcats entered the weekend in sixth place, but just two points behind fourth-place Michigan State and four behind third-place Michigan.
“Definitely our chances for the league (title) went out the window this week,” NMU goaltender Craig Kowalski said.
Michigan has been plagued by poor starts in games — the Wolverines were down 2-0 and 3-0 in games last weekend vs. Ferris State. Saturday, Michigan blitzed Northern early on the power play.
The Wildcats were called for the first five penalties in the game, and Michigan scored twice with the man advantage.
“We let our composure get away from us, then we let the game get away from us,” said Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle, who refused to comment on the officiating.
The game became blowout ugly by the end of the second period, after Milan Gajic scored his second goal of the game to put Michigan up 5-0. A minibrawl started with three pairs of players duking it out — Michigan’s John Shouneyia vs. Geoff Waugh, Brandon Rogers vs. Alan Swanson, and Danny Richmond vs. Juha Alen. Between both teams, 82 minutes of penalties were called in the period.
Northern even received an illegal-equipment penalty in the third, because Kevin Gardner used a broken stick. The Wildcats finished with 74 penalty minutes to Michigan’s 45. The Wolverines were 3-for-13 on the power play; Northern went 0-for-5.
Kyle said his goaltender wasn’t at fault. Kowalski played well Friday night and had won five straight vs. Michigan before this weekend.
“They outplayed us all weekend,” said Kowalski.
David Moss scored twice for the Wolverines. Gajic had his second impressive game in as many weeks, with two goals. Andrew Ebbett had three assists. Forward J.J. Swistak played well as a sixth defenseman. Berenson said John Shouneyia played his “best game of the season.”
It was also the best game of the season for the fans at Yost, who were relentless in their chanting at Bryce Cockburn. A frustrated Cockburn ended up with a game misconduct and left the ice in the third period.
An unhappy Northern fan, Mariucci visited Yost Ice Arena for the first time, joined by Lions executive Bill Ford, Jr. He was named the Lions coach on Wednesday. “The fans are awesome. They’re fantastic,” said Mariucci, sitting at the very top of the bleachers near midice. “I wanted to see how many Yoopers there are. I found out there were seven.”
Yoopers are natives of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Northern players were excited to see one of their famous alumni.
“Mariucci came up to me and asked if I was from the U.P., said Jamie Milam, who lives in southeastern Michigan. “I told him no, but I did tell him, ‘You have to bring Barry [Sanders] back.’ He just laughed.”
Said Kowalski, “He shook hands with all of us. He was a nice, approachable guy. I hope he can turn the Lions around.”