MARQUETTE, Mich. — Any question as to whether Northern Michigan could handle the top team in the CCHA was answered Friday night as the Wildcats edged the No. 14 Ohio State Buckeyes, 2-1, at the Berry Events Center.
“I saw signs of growth tonight; it’s one of the first times I can say that,” said NMU head coach Walt Kyle. “We did a good job, we moved the puck up, [and] we had a number of opportunities. We have to get better at some things, but I like a lot of things we did.”
The Wildcats (4-3-0, 3-2-0 CCHA), who are undefeated at home, will try to sustain the momentum for round two with the Buckeyes (6-4-0, 5-2-0 CCHA) Saturday night.
“They’re a very good team, and we have to come out and play like that again,” said Kyle.
Northern Michigan senior Justin Kinnunen got his first goal of the season at 6:48 of the first period on an Ohio State turnover that ended up on the stick of sophomore Andrew Contois. Contois, after digging the puck out of his own end, walked in to the slot past two OSU defenders and fed the puck to Kinnunen, who put the puck past Buckeye goaltender Mike Betz.
The Wildcats followed up the game-winner at 15:28 of the first by sophomore defenseman Jamie Milam, who picked the pocket of Ohio State defender Doug Andress at the left corner of the Ohio State end. Milam backpedaled a bit but was able to walk in on Betz in the high slot and fire the puck in for his third goal of the year.
Leading 2-0 going into the second period, NMU seemed relaxed but got help from senior goalie Craig Kowalski. Kowalski faced a barrage of shots, including the one that got by him at 5:36.
Ohio State senior Paul Caponigri was the only Buckeye that could solve Kowalski Friday night, with a great move in front that beat him. Dan Knapp and Dave Steckel picked up the assists.
The defensive battle began after that point, with both Betz and Kowalski turning in outstanding performances in their own ends. Northern Michigan emerged victorious despite being outshot 32-25.
Kyle stressed the importance of wins like this one, saying, “We need to get games like this in our own building.
“Last year we won Friday night, they came back and won on Saturday, we came back and beat them in the Joe, and I want to just get this next one tomorrow night here.”
NMU and OSU return to the ice Saturday at 7:35 p.m. to conclude their only series of the season.