MARQUETTE, Mich. — While special teams and puck luck helped determine the outcome of last night’s game, the Northern Michigan Wildcats’ desire to prove they were the “hardest working team” in college hockey determined the outcome of tonight’s game.
The ‘Cats swept the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, showing all that inexperienced freshmen and a handful of upperclassmen can still teach a seasoned team how to play the game of hockey.
The first period began with blurs of red and splashes of green. At 2:35, the Wildcats’ Gregor Hanson and Mavericks’ Matt Ambroz took roughing penalties.
The Mavericks used the four-on-four opportunity to show off their special teams, scoring at 2:48. Mick Lawrence passed the puck to Bill Bagron, who shot it across the crease into the top right corner of the net
The ‘Cats retaliated at 5:19 with a rebound shot. Mavericks’ goalie Jerad Kaufmann lay on his stomach perpendicular to the goal line. Hanson, splayed in front of him, fed the puck to center Jared Brown who put it square in the net.
“The puck was just lying in front of me,” Brown said. “I was just in the right place at the right time.”
At 8:22 of the second period, the Mavericks regained their one goal lead when the puck was fumbled behind Wildcats’ goalie Brian Stewart on a triple rebound. The goal was the only five-on-five Nebraska-Omaha goal of the series.
Northern’s Mark Olver took a tripping penalty at 10:05, shortly followed by TJ Miller, who took one for cross-checking. The five-on-three assisted the Mavericks in their power play and helped Lawrence get his second point of the night.
With seconds left in their penalty kill, the ‘Cats broke away from their penalty kill and darted down the ice on a breakaway that strayed right of the net. Before disappointed fans could settle back into their seats, senior trio Matt Siddall, Andrew Sarauer and Blake Cosgrove put the puck in the net at 12:56.
“It was a great weekend for Matt Siddall,” Kyle said. “He’s been outstanding. It’s the best year of his career. We always say it here, but if you want to be a big player, you have to make big plays in big moments and he did that tonight.”
The Mavericks started the third period with a one man advantage as Matt Butcher finished 34 seconds a slashing penalty. This didn’t phase the Wildcats.
The Wildcats scored at 15:43, but after the play went under review, the goal was called back. The loss of their goal sent the ‘Cats into a frenzy.
At 11:55, Lawrence took a cross-checking penalty that helped the ‘Cats show off their special teams. Nick Sirota passed the puck behind him to Siddall, who put it in the top left corner with ease.
“Sirota made a phenomenal play and dropped the pass to me,” Siddall said. “It was just a great, great hook. I just closed my eyes and hit it.”
“It’s senior weekend and Siddall really wanted to leave with a big game,” Brown said. “He had six points in two games. That’s great for him.
“This series was huge. We got four points. It’s just something really special and this just sums up my experience with Northern hockey. The crowd, the emotion and playing with everything you’ve got it just hits home. It’s great.”
The board read 3-3 as the game went into overtime. With 1:20 left in the game, co-captain Billy Smith scored the game-winning goal, a rebound into the five hole.
“It all just kind of went to the net,” Smith said. “Phil Fox had the puck down low and it just squirted out and I got the opportunity to take a couple cracks at it and the second one finally went in. It was an exciting goal.”
“Billy had a number of opportunities, but he hit the post earlier,” Kyle said. “He’s been one of our best players all year but hasn’t been able to buy goals so it’s certainly good for him to get the reward of that goal.
“We started out the game rough, but we were resilient and kept coming back from behind. Our best period was our third period. We started mixing our lines around to find something that worked.”