OMAHA, Neb. — Northern Michigan is no longer 0-fer on the road.
With outstanding contributions from two of the team’s three seniors, the young Wildcats scrapped out a split with Nebraska-Omaha Saturday night, winning a 4-2 series finale at the Qwest Center. It was Northern Michigan’s first road win of the season.
“I think this was important, we have an off week next week so it makes things different for us to go into the two weeks off with a win under our belts,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “It’s real important that the guys go back and enjoy a victory.”
Senior forward Justin Kinnunen scored NMU’s second goal and senior goaltender Craig Kowalski turned in another standout performance with 34 saves on 36 Mavericks shots.
But it was two sophomore ‘Cats that made the difference. Nathan Oystrick, sporting the unorthodox No. 74, opened the scoring and Patrick Murphy got the game winner in the second period.
With Kowalski stopping 16 shots in the first period alone, including two point-blank power-play stonings of UNO leading scorer Scott Parse, Northern Michigan got the confidence boost they needed and took the lead first.
With Pat Bateman tangled up with a UNO defender at the blue line, Oystrick followed the play down and collected the loose puck. He came in free on a partial break and slammed a hard shot into Tebbs. The puck bounced up and behind Tebbs for the goal at 9:46 of the first period. Though UNO outshot NMU 16-5 in the first, the Wildcats had the 1-0 lead.
“It’s easy to build off a goalie that’s playing well,” UNO goalie Kris Tebbs said. “He made a few big saves early on and they got into the game pretty quick.”
UNO tied the bout 39 seconds into the second period on sophomore captain Mike Lefley’s fourth goal of the season. With UNO working on the power play, Lefley collected a pass from defenseman Mike Gabinet, skated behind the net and planted a wraparound shot in Kowalski’s leg pad. Lefely’s second effort found the net just as the power play expired, counting it as an even strength goal.
After the goal an old-fashioned hockey brawl broke out spawned by Bateman’s disrespect for a UNO tradition of throwing a fish on the ice after the first Mavericks goal. The result was a total of 36 penalty minutes, two 10-minute misconducts and a Wildcat power play.
“That was the turning point of the game, right there,” Kyle said.
UNO coach Mike Kemp agreed.
“They wanted to establish that kind of flow to the game and certainly they got the kind of distraction they wanted and it worked to their benefit,” Kemp said. “That turned the momentum a bit. The momentum could have gone our way [after the goal]. The flow disrupted right away after that.”
Northern Michigan took a 2-1 lead at 13:43 of the second. Kinnunen skated across the blue line and beat a Maverick defender deep, got to the net and unloaded a top-shelf wrister that popped in and out so fast the goal light didn’t even come on.
The Wildcats extended their lead at 18:04 with Murphy’s goal. A shot from the point pinballed in traffic, hit Murphy’s skate and sailed by Tebbs.
“It hit probably three guys and just went around me,” Tebbs said. “It was kind of like Plinko, I guess.”
UNO responded with a goal in the last minute of the second. Jason Kriscuk scored his first Maverick goal with a blue-line laser that went clean to the twine. It wasn’t quite enough as Northern added and empty netter late in the third to secure the win. The Wildcats also had two goals waved off in the third period.
With the win, the Wildcats improved back to .500 with a record of 5-5-0. UNO dropped to 2-7-1 and are at Ferris State next weekend.