MARQUETTE, Mich. — The Northern Michigan Wildcats got help from a familiar face on Friday night as they upended the Lake Superior State Lakers in a defensive struggle, 1-0.
Midway through the second period and with the Wildcats on a 5-on-3, forward Nick Sirota fired a shot from point that LSSU netminder Jeff Jakaitis failed to corral. A battle for the puck ended when it popped into the air in front of the net, fluttered over Jakaitis’ head and came to rest in the goal. The goal, which put the Wildcats up 1-0, was credited to forward Mike Santorelli.
“We were just kind of peppering the goalie,” Santorelli said. “I think a puck came through and I just shot it because you never know what will happen when you shoot the puck. Just so happened, it went in the net.”
The marker, which was allowed after a review by referee Stephen McInchak, was Santorelli’s CCHA-leading 26th of the year. The number also tied him for first in the nation after co-leader Ted Cook failed to score in Niagara’s 7-1 loss to Robert Morris.
The fact that the Wildcats (12-17-2 overall, 9-13-1 CCHA) and Lakers (14-12-3, 8-10-3) skated in a fast-paced, defensive game failed to surprise the coaches and it was, in fact, what they had prepared for.
“I would say that was exactly the game that I expected. That’s the way they play,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “They’re a really good defensive team. They are tough to get shots on and they are tough to get goals on.”
“We played hard and we competed,” LSSU head coach Jim Roque said. “It’s a little frustrating and disheartening, but any time you come to Northern and it’s 1-0 and you have a chance to win the game, that’s all you ask for.”
The opportunity for NMU’s defense to stand tall came in the waning moments of the final period. Clinging to their one goal lead, the Wildcats faced three LSSU power-plays in the final 12 minutes of the contest.
Despite exhaustion, the Wildcat penalty kill was able to step up and they set the tone for the rest of the game.
“Well, I wanted to get off the ice, but we couldn’t get the puck out,” NMU captain Pat Bateman said. “We did a good job. We bent, but we didn’t break.”
Backing up the NMU penalty kill was senior netminder Bill Zaniboni, who picked up the sixth shutout of his career on Friday. Zaniboni stonewalled the Lakers on 26 shots.
On the other end of the ice, Hobey Baker candidate Jakaitis allowed one goal on 20 NMU shots.
“We talked before the game about getting traffic in front of him and getting rebounds,” Bateman said of Jakaitis. “He is a good goalie and he’s going to stop [most] of the first shots and that’s the way that we have to attack him.”
Someone else who was attacking on Friday was NMU forward Matt Siddall who was whistled for a headbutt as time expired in the game. The call drew a 5-minute major and a 10-minute game disqualification, forcing Siddall out of tomorrow night’s contest in Sault Ste. Marie.
The victory couldn’t have come at a better time for Wildcats, who are jockeying for positioning in the upcoming CCHA Tournament. Realizing this, they refuse to dwell on the win.
“This doesn’t mean anything,” Bateman said. “We’re going to take it one game at a time and we’re not looking past Lake State.”
The puck drops tomorrow at 7:05 p.m.