MARQUETTE, Mich. — It was a battle of special teams and a war for the standings.
The CCHA’s best power play met the league’s best penalty kill Friday night as Northern Michigan routed Miami, entertaining the Berry Center crowd with a 5-2 victory over the first-place RedHawks.
Backed by a solid offensive performance, NMU goaltender Craig Kowalski shut the door once again on the visiting RedHawks and came up big on several occasions for the ‘Cats, stopping 26 shots on the night.
Miami (11-8-2, 8-4-1 CCHA) has had little success against the Wildcats (10-8-1, 8-7-0 CCHA) in the past, and are now 6-24-1 in the all-time series and 1-17-0 in games played in Marquette.
Northern head coach Walt Kyle was happy with his squad’s win over the top team in the league.
“I thought we had some guys who really played up tonight, [and] the good thing is we have a number of guys who can play better,” said Kyle.
Miami’s red-hot power play made its case early, going up 1-0 at 7:37 of the first with a goal by freshman Marty Guerin. Guerin’s sixth goal of the year came on assists by Andy Greene and Taylor Hustead.
The Wildcats got right back in it with two straight goals by sophomore defenseman Jamie Milam, his fifth and sixth of year, at 11:26 and 19:48, respectively.
Up 2-1 heading into the second period, NMU Junior Kevin Gardner followed up with a power-play goal at 7:17 on a beautiful play he one-handed and inside the right post to beat Miami freshman goalie Brandon Crawford-West. Sophomores Milam and Nathan Oystrick picked up the assists on Gardner’s fifth tally of the season.
Senior Justin Kinnunen scored under two minutes later on a four-on-two opportunity with the Wildcats picking up a Miami turnover in the NMU zone. Kinnunen shot at Crawford-West, who kicked out the puck, but Kinnunen collected his own rebound and jabbed it in for his fourth of the year. Gardner and Oystrick assisted.
Six seconds into a Miami power play, freshman Matt Christie scored on a weak backhand rebound shot, his 14th of the year, making the score 4-2 going into the second intermission.
Both Miami goals were scored on the power play as the RedHawks capitalized twice in six tries. Northern Michigan went 2-for-3 on the power play.
With Miami struggling with turnovers, Northern caught the RedHawks on a three-on-two break, with NMU’s Andrew Contois driving to the net. Contois’ shot was blocked by Crawford-West but Wildcat center Dirk Southern backhanded the rebound in for his seventh goal of the year
Despite NMU holding a 7-1-0 record at home, Kyle warned that Saturday’s game will be hard-fought.
“[The RedHawks] were certainly a little bit rusty much like we were last week coming back against Michigan State.
“We’re going to have our hands full tomorrow and we gotta play better.”
Three goals in the hole in the third period, the RedHawks kept solid pressure in the NMU zone. Kowalski came up with some big saves, and got all the support he needed from the Wildcat defensive corps.
One point now separates NMU from sharing the top spot in the CCHA standings with Miami and Michigan State; the ‘Cats will try to carry the momentum into Saturday.
“Biggest one of the year is tomorrow night,” Kyle said.
Northern Michigan and Miami conclude the series at 7:35 p.m. EST at the Berry Events Center.