DETROIT — It was, in the words of Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle, a wild one.
The lead changed hands five times, but that fifth time proved to be the only one that mattered in the end, when No. 5 seed Northern Michigan edged No. 4 seed Michigan State 7-5 in the second Super Six quarterfinal game to advance to a Friday semifinal against top seed Ferris State.
Nathan Oystrick’s second goal of the season at 16:11 put the Wildcats ahead for good, and Chris Gobert was credited with the empty-net insurance goal at 19:40.
“We’re happy with the win,” said Kyle, NMU’s first-year head coach. “We came down here trying to compete for a championship. We certainly had to get by this game, and we know we have a difficult task with the three other teams that are remaining.”
Spartan Brian Maloney registered a hat trick in the back-and-forth, emotionally charged contest. MSU outshot NMU 46-29, including 19-9 in the third period.
“It was a tough loss, obviously,” said MSU head coach Rick Comley. “We had plenty of chances to win; I thought we had the game won a couple of times. We gave up goals to let them back in the game.”
Northern jumped out to an early two-goal lead with Bryce Cockburn’s power-play tally at 10:17 in the first and Mike Stutzel’s even-strength goal at 11:30, but Maloney netted two in the first — at 12:03 and 19:25, the second on a power play — to knot it up at two each heading into the second.
Brock Radunske gave the Spartans their first lead of the game at 2:53 in the second, another power-play goal, but Terry Harrison answered for NMU at 8:20, and the game was tied — yet again — at the start of the third.
Kevin Estrada gave MSU a 4-3 lead at 8:19 in the third, but Kevin Gardner tied it — again — at 10:32.
Dirk Southern’s 10th goal of the season pushed the Wildcats ahead by one — again — less than two minutes later, but Maloney’s hat trick goal at 13:58 made it 5-5.
It was Oystrick’s shot from the blue line beyond the top of the right circle, fed by Alan Swanson from the right corner, that put NMU ahead for good.
Gobert was credited with the empty-netter that really went in off of a Spartan defender.
“I feel bad for Migs [MSU goaltender Matt Migliaccio] because I think it was one of those nights where a goaltender feels terrible, and pucks found a way into the net,” said Comley. “I think Craig [Kowalski] played very well. He gave up some goals he shouldn’t have, also, but he battled hard.”
“Both teams showed a lot of resiliency,” said Kyle. “We were up, we were even, we were down. I give the guys a lot of credit.”
Migliaccio made 22 saves in the loss to Kowalski’s 41 in the win. Each team went two-for-four on the power play; each team had seven penalties for 14 minutes each — but there were more than a few scrums that went unpenalized.
For the Spartans (23-13-2), the loss ends an incredible run for the playoffs; Michigan State was in 10th place in the CCHA standings in January, and having gone 13-4-1 in their final 18 regular-season contests to climb to fourth in the final league standings.
Northern Michigan (20-16-2) will meet Ferris State in the 4:05 p.m. semifinal in Joe Louis Arena Friday afternoon.