HOUGHTON, Mich. — In the battle for dominance in the U.P.,the Northern Michigan Wildcats, backed by a tremendous night from their goaltender, Brian Stewart, won for the second time this season at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena Saturday night, 2-0, as Stewart earned his first career shutout.
“We played another thorough game (tonight),” said Huskies’ head coach Jamie Russell. “It’s extremely frustrating right now because I thought we played some great hockey.”
Sophomore winger Ray Kaunisto got the Wildcats (7-10-1 overall, 5-9-0 CCHA) on the board in the second period with a long wrist shot from the high slot that found its way past Huskies’ netminder Rob Nolan. Sophomore center Matt Butcher made the pass to Kaunisto, who netted his fourth of the season at 5:55.
The Huskies (6-8-2 overall, 5-6-1 WCHA) finished the weekend with 65 shots on net, and only managed a goal in the first period of Friday night’s game.
“I thought that (Michigan) Tech played great this weekend,” said Wildcats’ head coach Walt Kyle. “I thought they had us under pressure a lot.”
The opening frame looked much like the Friday night game; the Huskies controlled the majority of the play, but had little to show for it.
Stewart, a sophomore, made 10 of his 35 saves on the night in the first, but none were more important than a shorthanded stop. Huskies’ sophomore Drew Dobson fired a long blast that was handled by Stewart. Stewart came up just as big a little later when freshman center Jordan Baker attempted to bury a rebound.
“Our goaltender had a great weekend and I think thats why we won tonight,” said Kyle.
Nolan’s best save of the game came eight minutes in as Derek May launched a blast from the blue line off a faceoff win by Brown. Nolan reached out with his glove and made the save look easy.
In the second period, the Huskies had a pair of man advantages, but couldn’t find the back of the net either time. Stewart was forced to stop Baker from burying a rebound or two in both power plays as Baker continued to prowl the area near the Wildcats’ goal.
“We need to generate more chances on the power play,” said Russell. “We can’t just sit back and wait for power plays and expect to score.”
The Wildcats struck for the second time in the middle frame as senior winger Andrew Sarauer waited until Nolan went down and fired the puck up over him with just 2:31 remaining. Freshman center Jared Brown picked up the lone assist on the goal, Sarauer’s second of the season.
“We knew that since they were pressing hard we could get chances if we got behind them,” said Kyle.
In the final stanza, the Huskies continued to fire early and often at Stewart, but had nothing to show for their efforts. Less than a minute in, captain Jimmy Kerr hit the post with a shot that had Stewart clearly beat.
“We were trying to come out quickly and get one early,” said Kerr. “Stuff like that happens, and you just have to battle through it.”
“We did a lot of the little things (right),” said Russell. “We were physical and we won battles, but we weren’t rewarded for our efforts.”
Nolan came up with two strong saves when called upon for the Huskies in the third. His best save of the two was on a shot from Sarauer on a three-on-two break about eleven minutes in. He finished the game with only thirteen stops. The Huskies managed to keep the Wildcats to 24 shots over the course of the weekend.
“I thought that Robbie played great,” said Russell. “It’s good to see him play well, but it’s frustrating that we couldn’t score for him.”
Russell burned his timeout with 1:04 left, trying to rally the troops. With an extra attacker on the ice in place of Nolan, the Huskies nearly struck off the ensuing faceoff, but Stewart continued to be in the right place at the right time.