MARQUETTE, Mich. — The Northern Michigan Wildcats finally received a veteran effort on Friday against the Bowling Green Falcons when a goal from Mike Santorelli and a pair of Darin Olver lamplighters carried the Wildcats to a 4-1 victory.
“It’s big and it’s what we’ve talked about needing all year,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “Those are the guys that have to do the job every night. They are the lead guys. They have proven that they can do it in the past and they have to carry the mail for us.”
Olver’s first marker was the game-winner and came at the 8:10 mark of the second period when he netted a rebound from Falcon’s netminder Jimmy Spratt. The lucky bounce came off a Pat Bateman shot which flew to Spratt’s right side, where Olver only had to beat an empty net for the goal.
“It was a great play by everybody on the line,” Olver said. “Everyone just did what they were supposed to do out there.”
Olver netted his second goal for the Wildcats (10-14-2 overall, 7-11-1 CCHA) just 1:26 into the final frame, when he managed to poke the puck through a crowd in front of the net. The score gave NMU a 3-0 advantage over the Falcons (5-20-1, 3-15-0) and was assisted by Mike Santorelli.
Santorelli picked up a second assist and a goal in the game, giving him 34 points on the season and a CCHA best 21 goals.
Also kicking in a strong veteran performance was senior NMU netminder Bill Zaniboni, who stopped 21 of the 22 shots that he faced, many against the power-play.
“I think we played well as a group for 60 minutes tonight,” Zaniboni said. “When they had chances I think I controlled my rebounds pretty well and I did the things to help us win a game.”
At the outset of the night Zaniboni had been in-net for the Wildcats for an astounding 1364:29. That number is good for first in the country, but the goalie sees no reason to give up time yet.
“I love it, it’s awesome,” he said. “It’s something that you hope for all through your career, especially as a senior. You want to play as much as you can and you always want to be out there to be sure that you help your team get a win. We need to put some wins together right now and I feel great.”
Zaniboni’s play, coupled with a strong defensive showing by the Wildcats, prevented the Falcons from converting on a power-play chance, despite myriad opportunities.
“Both teams created some good chances and both were good defensively,” Bowling Green head coach Scott Paluch said. “The difference in the game was that Northern did an outstanding job on the penalty kill and we were unable to capitalize on our power-play chances.”
The Falcons managed 12 shots on ten power-plays, but couldn’t get on the board. They threatened more than once, but were rejected by both Zaniboni and the stingy Northern defense.
“When things aren’t going well it seems that’s the way it’s going to be,” Paluch said. “But you have to battle through that and create your own breaks.”
Bowling Green has converted on only 15 of their 181 power-play opportunities this year (.083), and the unit must improve, according to Paluch.
“Our power-play has to start scoring some goals,” he said. “We’re struggling to score and a lot of that has to do with our power-play. We have to get better.”
The Wildcats and Falcons both had ample chances to score with an advantage as there were 21 penalties whistled in the contest.
Despite the win, the Wildcats know that there is still one game to go in the series as consistency has constantly eluded them this season. On Saturday, they look for their first sweep of the 2006-2007 campaign.
“We had a couple of guys put pucks in the net at big times and we jumped out to a lead,” Kyle said. “Good teams are able to do that every night and it’s something that we have to work on.”
The teams will face-off at 7:35 in the Berry Events Center.