MARQUETTE, Mich. — To Northern Michigan, being the “hardest-working team in college hockey” means something.
Friday night, the Wildcats showed a little of that determination and cashed in.
With 44.9 seconds left in overtime, freshman Darin Olver scored his second goal of the night to seal the victory for Northern, 4-3, over Notre Dame at the Berry Events Center.
The Wildcats (11-11-1, 9-10-0 CCHA), 8-2 at home, are now tied with the Fighting Irish (12-8-3, 8-7-2 CCHA) for seventh in the CCHA standings.
For a team on a two-game losing skid, Northern emerged with a solid effort against Notre Dame, a team that swept the Wildcats in South Bend in late November.
NMU head coach Walt Kyle reflected on his pregame locker-room discussion with his players.
“I told the guys before the game tonight I didn’t want to be focused on winning the game, I wanted us to be focused on how we played and if we came through tonight and we had the effort and we played and executed the way that I want, I’d take whatever the result was,” said Kyle.
“Now we need to come back and do that tomorrow.”
Northern started the scoring early in the first period on the power play with a great effort by Jamie Milam, who kept pressure in the ND zone with the help of linemate Olver.
Olver corralled a weak clearing attempt and walked in on Irish goaltender Morgan Cey, but couldn’t get the shot off. Milam skated into the high slot and knocked in the rebound at 10:26 for his eighth goal of the year. Olver and Dirk Southern assisted.
NMU netminder Craig Kowalski was outstanding in the first, holding the Irish to just four shots in the opening stanza.
Trailing 1-0 going into the second, Notre Dame seemed to wake up from the long trip, answering with two goals midway through the period.
Aaron Gill scored his ninth of the year at 9:17 with assists by Cory McLean and Chris Trick.
Senior Rob Globke gave the Irish a short-lived lead with his first of two goals at 12:46 of the second period. Globke’s 14th tally of the season came on assists by Gill and Josh Sciba. Displaying more confidence and control, the Irish outshot the Wildcats 13-7 in the second.
But the ‘Cats needed very little time to answer, and did so 19 seconds later with a goal by sophomore Nathan Oystrick. Alan Swanson and Kevin Gardner picked up the assists.
Tied at two-all, NMU put one more on the board before the second intermission with a netter by freshman Pat Bateman, his third of the year, with assists by Olver and Bobby Selden.
Globke scored his second goal of the night at 6:29 of the third to tie the game at 3. But Northern held on to send the game into overtime.
Holding Notre Dame to just one shot in OT, the Wildcats controlled the tempo and got the game winner in the waning seconds of the extra session.
With 51 seconds left, NMU won a key faceoff in the ND zone. Southern got the puck to Oystrick, who sent it in through traffic. Olver skated in and backhanded the loose puck low under a sprawling Cey to clinch the win.
NMU’s fans exploded as the Wildcat bench piled on top of Olver in front of the net.
Kyle was happy with his players’ efforts, especially Olver, who had two goals and two assists and was named Perani Cup first star for his performance.
“Darin Olver was very involved, he used his speed, he was involved physically, I thought without a doubt he was the best player on the ice,” Kyle said.
The CCHA’s top penalty-killing team, NMU held Notre Dame 0-for-5 on the man advantage while converting on one of its five chances.
“We need to focus on execution and on work and do our little things well and if we do that hopefully we’ll come out with the same type of game,” said Kyle.
Northern Michigan and Notre Dame will duke it out again Saturday night at 7:35 p.m. EST at the Berry Center to close out their second series of the regular season.