EAST LANSING, Mich. — This weekend’s series between Michigan State and Northern Michigan was billed as “The Student vs. The Mentor Round 2.”
Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle, “the student,” brought the Wildcats into East Lansing to take on MSU coach Rick Comley, “the mentor,” and the Spartans in a CCHA showdown at Munn Ice Arena. The two teams split their first series back in October.
Kyle was the one doing the teaching Saturday as the Wildcats handed MSU a 4-2 defeat, earning a series split after a 7-4 loss on Friday. The victory was the first for Northern Michigan (16-14-2, 12-11-1 CCHA) in East Lansing since it rejoined the league in 1997.
“First of all, I think that student-mentor thing is done. We’re just two coaches that have two teams that are playing against each other,” said Kyle, who replaced Comley at NMU last June after Comley departed for MSU following 26 years in Marquette. Kyle played for Comley during the 1980 and ’81 seasons and was an assistant under him from 1982-92.
“Rick is a guy that I was fortunate enough to play for in college and fortunate enough to work with, but more importantly, he’s a close friend,” Kyle said. “He’s a good man and I have a lot of respect for him.”
Comley wasn’t as worried about commenting on his relationship with Kyle as he was on praising NMU junior goalie Craig Kowalski. Finishing with 40 saves, Kowalski kept his team in the game despite a lopsided shot differential. MSU (18-12-2, 14-9-1) outshot the Wildcats 42-15.
“He played like Kowalski can play,” said Comley. “We were getting enough shots to win, but he was tough.”
After allowing seven goals on Friday, Kowalski and Northern fell behind 2-1 in the first period. Sophomore Lee Falardeau put the Spartans on top with a wrist shot from the slot with just 10 seconds left.
The Wildcats, however, scored three unanswered in the second and third periods to escape with the win.
Peter Michelutti tied the game with a power-play goal with 16:01 left in the second period, which snapped a 0-for-20 streak for Northern on the power play in its last six games.
Freshman Dirk Southern scored the game-winner six minutes later. With two defenders screening MSU goalie Matt Migliaccio, Southern fired a wrist shot into the right corner of the net.
“I got a lucky break. One of our guys tried to dump the puck in and it landed right in the slot,” said Southern. “We kept our spirits up after falling behind 2-1 and we knew the game wasn’t over.”
Although Southern never played for Comley, he acknowledged how much respect the Wildcats have for their former boss. “It was nice to shake his hand,” he said.
Bryce Cockburn added an insurance goal for NMU 1:08 into the third period. Andrew Contois had the assist.
Following a Northern goal by Mike Stutzel 3:29 into the game, the Spartans scored twice to take a 2-1 lead. John-Michael Liles, who entered Saturday as the top-scoring defenseman in the CCHA (37), tied the score at 1-1 with his 15th goal of the season.