MARQUETTE, Mich. — After winning the Maverick Stampede tournament last weekend, the Northern Michigan Wildcats opened CCHA play in style on Friday night as they downed the Ohio State Buckeyes 2-0.
“There were two very good defensive hockey teams out there tonight,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “Ohio State is a good team and are solid defensively and I think they played very well out there, but we were just able to come out with the win.”
With 13:16 remaining in the second period, Wildcat forward Nick Sirota released the game-winning shot, a laser that glided over goalie Nick Filion’s right shoulder to put Northern up 1-0. The goal was Sirota’s second on the year.
“Our guys just did what they were supposed to and got to their walls on that play,” Sirota said. “Robbie (Lehtinen) made a great play to me and I just happened to find the high short side.”
The Wildcats (4-2-1 overall, 1-0-0 CCHA) entered the game with the nation’s second best penalty killing unit (.939.) and proceeded to prove their worth to the Buckeyes (1-4-0, 1-2-0). On the night, NMU killed five penalties, including a manic 6-on-4 attack to end the game.
“We knew it was going to be a defensive game, and both of our goalies played well tonight,” Ohio State head coach John Markell said. “Northern just took care of their opportunities better than we did. I don’t think we made too many mistakes out there, but the mistakes we did make were big.”
Up 1-0 entering the third period, NMU looked to a familiar face for insurance. Just over one minute in, Wildcat forward Darin Olver picked up the puck on a turnover in the neutral zone. He beat two defenders on his way to a breakaway goal that slid between the legs of the freshman Filion, who was seeing time in only his second game. The goal was Olver’s first of the season.
“I thought Darin played very well tonight,” Kyle said. “He made a couple of great plays and we had him out there all the time defensively. This was easily his best game of the year.”
At the end of the night, the Buckeyes out-shot the Wildcats 22-14, but failed to post a goal. Markell attributed the loss to mistakes.
“I thought we had a pretty good game, but we made two big mistakes and we had two pucks in our net because of them,” he said. “NMU made mistakes and we couldn’t make them pay for them, and that’s what it comes down to. In this game, you have to be consistent with your effort and if you’re not, in all situations, they will make you pay.”
NMU netminder Bill Zaniboni recorded his second shutout of the young season and improved his save percentage to a staggering .946 on the year. He leads the CCHA with 193 saves.
“We’re a defensive team and we won’t score a lot of goals,” Sirota said. “They out-shot us out there and had just as many chances as we did. Thankfully Billy stood on his head out there again tonight.”
The two teams play again on Saturday night and both know what to expect from the opponent: A physical, defensive brand of hockey. The most important thing to focus on, according to Markell, is special teams play.
“Our penalty kill did a good job tonight, but they understand how decimating a good power-play can be. We knew that Northern Michigan was clicking on all cylinders coming into this game and they certainly showed it tonight.”
Saturday’s game will again take place in the Berry Events Center, face-off is at 7:30 p.m.