MARQUETTE, Mich. — Northern Michigan jumped out to a 2-0 lead after one period of play and never trailed in a 4-1 win over visiting Western Michigan at the Berry Events Center Sunday.
With the victory, the Wildcats reached the CCHA Super Six championship at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, taking a two-games-to-one first-round series win over WMU.
“I thought it was a great series. You have to give Western a lot of credit,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “We have the best fans in college hockey.”
Northern Michigan, which will play Alaska-Fairbanks in the CCHA quarterfinals Thursday at 4:30 p.m., got on the board first when Kevin Gardner scored an unassisted, shorthanded goal at 14:09 of the first period.
“It sort of had to be done,” Gardner said. “My year so far has been underachievement. I knew playoff time, guys have to step up. I was able to contribute this weekend.”
NMU extended its lead when sophomore forward Darin Olver set up freshman Tim Hartung for his fourth of the year. Sophomore forward Pat Bateman nearly scored a goal of his own that was nearly a second shorthander, coming seconds after a Bronco power play to give the Wildcats a 3-0 lead. Olver picked up his second assist of the game on the play.
Freshman forward Jeff Pierce pulled Western Michigan back into the game with a power-play goal, late in the second period.
But Gardner, a senior forward, capped the scoring with his second unassisted goal of the game at 17:21 of the third period.
WMU had the shot advantage on the night with 30 shots on goal, while NMU had 21 shots for the game. NMU was 0-6 on the power play while the Broncos were 1-5 with the extra man.
Tuomas Tarkki had 29 saves on the night for the victorious Wildcats, while Daniel Bellissimo stopped 17 shots for Western Michigan.
“We just decided that we are not going to lose this game tonight,” Tarkki said. “We just have to go there [the Joe] and do our job.”