MARQUETTE, Mich. — Behind a stellar performance by the Northern Michigan blueline corps and another record-setting Craig Kowalski shutout, the Wildcats downed Notre Dame, 1-0 Saturday, and earned a much-needed sweep to remain in contention for playoff home ice.
Behind a 23-save performance, Kowalski nabbed his fourth shutout of the season and the 12th of his career, rewriting the NMU record books once again and moving into a tie with Notre Dame’s David Brown on the CCHA’s shutout leader list.
“After losing two last weekend [against Alaska-Fairbanks] and getting two this weekend is just huge for us,” said Kowalski.
“I think they definitely did take us a little lightly.”
Sophomore Nathan Oystrick scored the game-winner and the only goal the Wildcats needed at 16:21 of the first period to take the win from the Irish. Alex Sawruk and Geoff Waugh assisted on Oystrick’s lone marker.
NMU held on to the 1-0 lead through over 40 minutes of play despite Notre Dame getting several golden opportunities at scoring and an outstanding performance by goalie David Brown.
Northern head coach Walt Kyle beamed with enthusiasm afterward, but pointed out that the Wildcats’ intentions this weekend were to improve their quality of play, not necessarily to take home the sweep.
“It was a great weekend,” said Kyle.
“We were much less concerned this weekend about wins and more concerned about quality of play and I think both nights we put on our hard hats, [and] these guys came to war.”
Special teams were once again a factor for the Wildcats as NMU held the Irish 0-for-6 on the power play. Northern’s CCHA-best penalty kill is clipping at an impressive 87.3 percent.
Kowalski, despite getting all the credit in the shutout win, including Perani Cup first-star honors, was quick to recognize his teammates’ efforts, especially the defensemen.
“They’ve just gotten better and better as the season goes on that’s what we expected. We’ve got young guys again, just like last year, so it takes a little while for them to gel,” said Kowalski.
“They let me see the puck [this weekend] and hopefully that continues.”
A capacity crowd of 4,052 was on hand at the Berry Events Center, where the Wildcats are now 9-2 in games played in Marquette. Sophomore Dirk Southern credited the crowd for its support throughout the weekend series.
“The way things were going losing the last three games and then coming back home, having a great crowd and picking up two huge wins against Notre Dame,” said Southern.
“It just can’t get any better.”
The Wildcats are back in action next weekend in non-conference play at Alabama-Huntsville for a two-game set against the Chargers. Notre Dame will host Alaska-Fairbanks in South Bend in another weekend of contention for league points.