OXFORD, Ohio — Just 24 hours after a disappointing performance against the number-four team in the nation, the Northern Michigan Wildcats did what few teams have been able to do over the last two seasons — beat the Miami RedHawks in Oxford.
Coming into this evening’s contest, the RedHawks (7-3-0; 4-2-0 CCHA) owned a 20-3-2 record in Oxford since the fall of 2005. Besides the Wildcats, only Vermont and Alaska have recorded wins in Oxford.
Despite being outshot by a two to one margin, the Wildcats (5-4-1; 2-2-0 CCHA) put together a gritty performance, taking advantage of a pair of Miami turnovers, to turn back the RedHawks by a 4-2 margin.
The biggest difference in the game, however, was the play of freshman goaltender Brian Stewart. The rookie from British Columbia braved a hostile crowd at the new Steve Cady Arena in his first collegiate start. He turned aside 39 Miami shots to pick up his first collegiate win, while earning the number one star in the Perani Cup three star selection.
Despite some initial nerves, Stewart played the role of spoiler for a Miami team looking to sweep the 19th-ranked Wildcats.
“It was awesome,” said Stewart, of beating the RedHawks. I got lots of work and it kept me moving all night.”
“It was pretty nerve-wracking, getting my first start. I’ve never been a part of something like that,” Stewart said of the Miami student section behind him. “It just motivates you when you hear all that.”
Wildcat head coach Walt Kyle was impressed, but not surprised, by his goaltender’s effort in his debut.
“He was hurt earlier in the year, or he would have gotten a start earlier,” said Kyle. “We think the guy’s for real, and tonight, he played like that. He made some huge saves, and he was able to get his first college win. We’re real proud of him.”
Kyle was also happy to get out of Oxford with a split.
“Realistically, you come down here to get one [win]. If you can get one, you did your job. For us, we’re ten games into the year. We’ve really only played three games at home, and we’re one game above .500. We’re a young team, but where we are right now, that’s pretty good.”
“[NMU] executed tonight,” said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi. “They made the most of their chances; they played hard. They won the battles, and we just didn’t have an answer for them.”
“That’s a good hockey team over there,” Blasi continued. “They were picked to finish fourth right behind us. They’re not an easy to team to beat. No game is easy in the CCHA, and we expected that tonight, no question.”
After a 5-1 shellacking last night, the Wildcats came out swinging from the opening bell, playing an up-tempo, physical game, while limiting their mistakes.
Despite being outshot in the opening stanza, Northern Michigan took the momentum with them to the locker room in the first intermission by scoring a nifty goal off a 3 on 1 late in the opening period.
The Wildcats, capitalizing on a bad Miami pass at the NMU blue line, played tic-tac-toe down the ice before senior Rob Lehtinen wristed a shot into the net from just outside the crease after taking a nice pass from center Darin Olver. The goal came with three seconds in the opening period. For a Wildcat team that was outshot 17-9 in the period, the goal gave the team a lift they needed.
“It was big,” said Kyle of the opening goal. “any time you’re in an opponent’s building, especially a building that’s been difficult to win in, you get a goal that keeps yourself in the game, that’s an important goal for us.”
The RedHawks answered with a shorthanded goal at 5:14 of the second period. The Wildcats, trying to get rid of the puck in front of their own net, turned the puck over to Justin Mercier. He found NCAA scoring leader Nathan Davis, who deposited his shot around the pads of freshman goaltender Brian Stewart for his ninth goal of the year. Davis had a hand in all seven goals the Hawks scored this weekend.
The Wildcats regained the lead at 8:17 thanks to another RedHawk turnover. Mike Santorelli scored his 7th goal of the year when he picked off a Miami defender at the blue line, then found the five-hole of Jeff Zatkoff from between the circles. The goal was assisted by Matt Siddall and TJ Miller.
Northern increased their lead to 3-1 with a power play goal in the opening minutes of the third period. Nick Sirota fired a shot from the top of the circle that missed the net high. The rebound came out to teammate Nathan Sigmund, who passed back to Sirota. His second shot found the back of the net for his 3rd tally of the year.
Miami would answer less than two minutes later with a power play marker of their own. A scramble in front of the net found a loose puck on the stick of Ryan Jones. He shoveled the puck under the pads of Stewart for his 6th goal of the year. Davis and Brian Kauffman assisted.
The Wildcats held the RedHawks off the scoreboard the rest of the way NMU added an empty net goal by Pt Bateman in the waning seconds of the game to seal their fifth win of the year.
NMU finished of 5 on the power play, while Miami netted one marker in nine tries. Stewart stopped 39 of Miami’s 41 shots, while Jeff Zatkoff stopped 18 of the 21 shots he faced.
The loss ends Miami’s win streak at four games.