MARQUETTE, Mich. — Keeping with their current trend, the Northern Michigan Wildcats beat the Bowling Green Falcons 3-0 in tonights evenly matched game, with the first two periods finishing with similar statistics for both teams.
The first period was uneventful. Neither team generated goal-worthy plays though both teams each had a power play. The second period continued in a similar fashion despite Northern Michigans debut onto the stat sheet at 5:09.
Mark Olver, the Wildcats talented forward, gave the puck to Erik Gustafsson who shot it across the ice to Andrew Cherniwchan who one timed it from the center of the faceoff circle for what turned out to be the game-winning goal. During this period, both teams served two penalties that displayed some excellent penalty kills, but fans were left stirring in their seats making small talk.
I didnt like our performance for two periods, Kyle said. We didnt have any forwards. We were sloppy. They werent playing with the energy we needed to play with but I thought our defensemen did a very nice job and our goaltending was very solid. In the third period our forwards started picking up speed and tempo and we sorted the bench and started playing the guys that played effectively.
The game finally picked up in the third period and gave the viewers something to talk about. At 18:52 the Wildcats bumped up their tally to 2-0 when Nick Sirota fed the puck to Billy Smith. Smith drove the puck to the net where Jared Brown took control. On his own rebound, Brown settled the puck into the net to finally get the game going and the crowd roaring.
We were sluggish all week and looked like junk in practice and we needed to come out and start playing hard because Bowling Green was getting a lot of opportunities and we cant just sit back and let a team like that control the play, Smith said. Theyre below us in the standings but that doesnt matter who youre playing, any given night they can get opportunities and score goals against us, so it was important to pick up in the third.
Smith dominated the penalty kill in tonights match and reminded everyone he had returned from his mid-season injury with some great checking and nice hands around the net.
Billy Smith was outstanding, Kyle said. He set tempo, he gave us energy. He was strong on the puck. Hes not one of those guys thats going to put up a lot of points. You dont notice him handling the puck a lot but you do notice his work and commitment to do what he needs to do.
What ensued the rest of the third was every goalies nightmare. The Wildcat offense picked up momentum and set up some beautiful plays and shots but an resilient Bowling Green defense used every means possible to block them and deflected the puck to help goalie Jimmy Spratt keep his crease.
With just under two minutes left in the game, the Falcons pulled Spratt in last minute dreams of victory, but the Wildcats woke them up with the sound of the goal horn at 18:25 when Sirota gave the puck to Brown who shot it into the net with ease.
Wildcat goalie Brian Stewart had 28 saves on the night. Since coming back from a mid-season knee injury, Stewart has help the Wildcats win eight of the last nine games, including a shootout win against the Alaska Nanooks.
When Stewart plays well it gives us a lot of confidence, Smith said. We can sit back a little bit and rely on him but we dont want to do that. We want to be more of a forecheck, press team, but Stewart plays really well and gives us the chance to win games.
I felt relaxed today and didnt get too nervous, Stewart said. The D in front of me did a great job letting me see, blocking shots and clearing rebounds. It wasnt our best game We werent playing like we have been lately or how we should be so were lucky to get away with a win.
Northern Michigan (10-13-4 overall, 7-10-5-3 in the CCHA) will go for their fourth straight home sweep against Bowling Green (9-16-3, 6-13-1-0) tomorrow night at 7:35.
Bowling Green is going to be a better team tomorrow, Kyle said. Theyre going to be hungry, they were hungry tonight and theyre a very dynamic team, very well coached and were going to have our hands full.