MARQUETTE, Mich. — Saturday was Senior Night at the Berry Events Center and the Northern Michigan seniors answered the call in full force. Six of the nine departing players found the score-sheet and all saw ice time as the Wildcats defeated the Miami RedHawks, 4-1.
“We needed to create something positive and I thought the guys came out with some emotion tonight and I am particularly happy with the guys that have been here for four years,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “They’ve had a tough year this year and it’s nice for them to be able to go out with the kind of feeling that they had tonight.”
Miami was simply unable to match the intensity of the senior-driven Wildcats.
“I don’t know that we’ve been involved in a senior night on the road in a long time,” Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. “You just have to be ready to match their energy and obviously they had a lot of energy and passion tonight. Their seniors led the way. They deserved to win right from the get-go.”
Already up 1-0 in the first period, NMU took advantage of a RedHawk defensive miscue. As they attempted a line change, Miami turned the puck over at mid-ice. Senior Rob Lehtinen fed the puck to fellow senior Dusty Collins, who fired it into the goal from the blue dot at Miami netminder Jeff Zatkoff’s left side.
The Wildcats held onto the 2-0 advantage until Mike Santorelli posted his 27th goal of the year at the 12:16 mark of the second period. He picked up the puck to Zatkoff’s right, dribbled past a defender and fired the puck a point blank shot and into the net for a 3-0 NMU lead.
Then, with less than three minutes remaining in the frame, Miami’s Ryan Jones poked his 27th marker of the season past sprawling NMU senior goalie Bill Zaniboni, who stopped 14 of 15 RedHawk shots on the night. After making the initial save, Zaniboni couldn’t control the puck and Jones was able to hammer it in, cutting the NMU lead to 3-1.
In the final two minutes of the contest, Santorelli scored again with assists going to a pair of NMU seniors, Matt Maunu and Zach Tarkir. The goal cemented the score and sent the Wildcat seniors off in style.
“It was a very emotional game, as expected, because it was senior night,” Collins said. “It was cool how all of the underclassmen and the juniors really pulled through for us. We have a team that cares about each other and it was really cool for those guys to help us out and get the win and end our careers here at the Berry on the right note.”
Also taking the ice in the game was third-string NMU senior goaltender Josh Hatinger, who has played just one full game in his career at Northern, an exhibition against the USNTDP U-18 team earlier this season.
With 38 seconds left in the game, Hatinger took his place in the net, but he never faced a Miami shot.
“I thought the [USNTDP] game was going to be my last one, but I heard [assistant coach John Olver] yelling to Walt with 38 seconds left on the clock to put me in there and I’m just thankful that Walt thought enough of me to put me in.”
With the win, NMU finishes in tenth place in the CCHA and will travel to Columbus next weekend, where they will take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
The goal for the Wildcat seniors is now to return to the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The final four teams in the CCHA Playoffs travel to the Joe to play and the seniors have been there the past three seasons.
“We’ve got to rest up for Ohio State and watch video and get prepared because playoffs are a new season,” NMU senior Rob Lehtinen said. “The only pressure is to just go out and show what we can do, especially as seniors. We want to get to the Joe all four years.”
Blasi said the NMU could be a team to watch out for come playoff time.
“Playoffs are playoffs and anything can happen,” he said. “Northern Michigan is a very good hockey team with good goaltending, with some senior leadership, and with Santorelli. You can’t count them out.”
Miami finishes the regular season in third place in the CCHA and they will get next weekend off as they rest and prepare for a home game in the second round.