MARQUETTE, Mich. — When NMU senior Pat Bateman left the ice after drawing a game misconduct early in the third period, the Wildcat momentum went with him.
The re-energized Spartans took advantage, netting two goals in the final 10 minutes of regulation to complete a comeback, and the series sweep, against Northern Michigan, 3-2.
The Spartans (9-7-1 overall, 7-5-1 CCHA), trailing 2-1 just three minutes into the final frame, were making a line change when Bateman checked Daniel Sturges from behind. Sturges tumbled head-first into the open door of the MSU bench, where he remained face-down on the ice while Bateman was handed a five-minute major.
The Wildcats (7-10-2, 4-7-1) became winded as they skated off the long penalty and just seconds before it was over, they were called for crosschecking, as well. The uninterrupted Spartan power play eventually resulted in the tying goal as Nick Sucharski netted a rebound off NMU netminder Bill Zaniboni at the 10:12 mark.
Tim Kennedy and Tyler Howells assisted on the play and the Spartans never looked back.
“I thought we were in big trouble, we weren’t even coming close,” Spartan head coach Rick Comley said. “They had complete control of the hockey game and that penalty got us back in it.”
The view was the same from both sides of the rink.
“After we lost Bateman there, we were down and we were tired,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “We were in absolute control until he took that penalty.”
MSU forward Brandon Warner opened the scoring when he netted his first goal of the year just seven minutes into the first period. Positioned behind the Wildcat net, Warner skated to NMU goaltender Bill Zaniboni’s right side and executed a textbook wraparound that caught the netminder unprepared. The goal, which put MSU up 1-0, was one of two Spartan power-play goals on the night.
Northern Michigan answered with a power-play goal of its own. Andrew Sarauer stood at the top of the crease and redirected a Rob Lehtinen laser shot into the net. The goal was Sarauer’s third on the year.
The two teams entered the first intermission tied at 1.
After Spartan goalie Jeff Lerg had stonewalled him on numerous point-blank shots throughout the second period, Mike Santorelli finally came through for the Wildcats at the 14:36 mark. The goal was Santorelli’s 13th of the season and put NMU up by one.
Lerg stopped 48 of 52 Wildcat shots on the weekend.
The lead, and the momentum, remained in Northern Michigan’s favor until the Bateman penalty early in the final stanza.
Finally, with just 2:38 remaining in the game, Bryan Lerg sealed the deal for the Spartans when he slid the go-ahead goal past Zaniboni. Tyler Howells and Jeff Dunne picked up the assists.
“It’s a disappointing outcome and right now we’re just not finding ways to win,” Kyle said. “We’re finding ways, in my opinion, to do the opposite. Each night it’s a different thing right now.”
The loss stretched the NMU skid to five games, the longest since Kyle took over as coach. After a game against the U.S. Under-18 Team next Friday, the Wildcats will welcome their two-week break with open arms; the consensus was that it could not have come at a better time for the team.
“I think we need to take a step back and look at ourselves down deep,” Santorelli said. “We have to practice and execute our systems and work hard.”
The Spartans will take nearly three weeks off before facing Harvard on December 29. The team has been dealing with the flu recently and is grateful, not only for their break, but also for the victory.
“We looked out of it to be honest,” Comley said. “Sometimes that’s what has to happen, though. You get a win when you’re under the weather and it may be a win that you don’t totally deserve. Sometimes that can do a lot for you.”