MARQUETTE, Mich. — Arguably the most hotly-contested battle in the CCHA this weekend was fought Friday night at the Berry Events Center, where Northern Michigan and Western Michigan duked it out for two all-important league points to remain in contention for playoff home ice.
Northern came out with the glory, backed by two goals by Darin Olver, as the Wildcats downed the Broncos, 3-2, in a penalty-laden war between playoff rivals.
Western (14-13-3, 10-10-2 CCHA) has had little success against the Wildcats (14-11-2, 11-10-0 CCHA) in Marquette, and Friday was no exception. The Broncos are now 1-10-1 in Marquette, including two playoff losses last season.
NMU got on the board first with Patrick Murphy’s third tally of the year. Matt Ciancio and Dusty Collins assisted at 2:05 of the first period.
Freshman sensation Olver scored his first of two goals of the night at 9:48 of the first, a shorthanded marker assisted by Justin Kinnunen.
Western’s Paul Szczechura scored his first of two at 15:15 of the first period, an unassisted power-play goal.
At 4:11 of the second, Olver got his second of the night and 11th of the year with a pretty rebound shot past WMU netminder Scott Foster. Foster had two saves on the puck before Olver netted it.
Despite the victory, Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle was not pleased with the Wildcats’ inability to stay out of the penalty box. The Wildcats were called for 10 penalties for 20 minutes.
“We took a lot of bad penalties and it’s something we’ve been talking about all year and these guys are going to have to wake up to that,” said Kyle.
“We can’t be taking those penalties if we’re going to be successful.”
Szczechura put another one in for the Broncos, a nice wraparound play, with a little over two minutes left in regulation, but WMU couldn’t pull out the equalizer. Despite pulling Foster in the waning minutes, Western was still a man short with Dana Lattery in the box for goaltender interference.
NMU’s solid penalty kill gave up one goal as WMU converted on one of its nine opportunities on the man-advantage. NMU went 0-for-5 on the power play.
Northern goalie Craig Kowalski was outstanding in net, stopping 30 WMU shots. Foster had 15 saves for the Broncos.
With the win, NMU’s record on home ice improves to 10-2. The Wildcats haven’t lost a game at home since Jan. 10, a 3-2 loss to first-place Miami.
Northern and Western are back in action Saturday at 7:35 p.m. EST at the Berry to finish out the series in what should prove to be a grudge match.