MARQUETTE, Mich. — Sticky starts and beautiful endings both occurred for the Northern Michigan Wildcats, who swept the Lake Superior State Lakers. Earning four points on the weekend with a 7-3 victory Friday night and a 4-3 victory in tonights match secured a first round home series against the rival Michigan State Spartans.
Tonights game was a sweet victory for the Wildcats, who have won 12 out of their last 16 games. This offsets their rocky start when they won five out of 18 games. Their work ethic and progress lead for a great night to send them off into the playoffs.
The start of the year we just werent clicking, thats pretty much has to do with the whole season, said Wildcat Mark Olver, who had a goal and assist on the night. You just have to find that chemistry between lines and players, you have to get goalies playing well and you have to focus on one thing and thats winning. We came back for the second part of the year and things just started to click a lot better for our team and we started to play a lot better.
That chemistry showed most when the Wildcats took a one goal lead Andrew Fernandez shot the puck from outside the blue line. Though Northern Michigan was one up, the Lakers didnt let up and played with an intensity that kept players on their toes.
In the second period, the Wildcats upped their lead to three with a power-play goal from rookie Tyler Gron, who backhanded the puck through the netminders legs, and an even strength wrist shot from Olver. With two minutes left in the period, the Lakers make their way onto the scoreboard when Zac MacVoy put the puck top shelf, stick side to make the game 3-1 going into the third.
Wildcat Jared Brown had the game winner with an unassisted goal at 12:37 in the third. Eighteen seconds later, the Lakers Will Acton charged back with a goal. The Lakers pulled their goalie in last minute hopes of closing the gap and the extra man helped their effort with another goal from MacVoy, but it was too little too late and Northern Michigan took the series with a 4-3 win.
Our guys played hard and battled back in the third, Lakers coach Joe Roque said. Our power play needs to work more. It has to produce and find a way to score goals. But our discipline was better tonight and we didnt give them a lot of power plays.
I was happy with the effort, Wildcat coach Walt Kyle said. I think Lake Superior came out with a great effort and they really made us work. Tonight they played really well and we needed that. I liked the way we responded. For long stretches of the game tonight I saw us play in the style we need to play. I liked our goals and some of the other chances that we had.
We had a lot of guys play hard and we get a lot of scoring out of the freshman/sophomore classes right now. Theyre doing a great job for us. I like the way things are looking for us.
The Wildcats are happy with their regular season, but are already focused on the series ahead.
Were excited for Michigan State, Olver said. We went down there the beginning of the year and didnt play so hot. Lerg is a great goaltender so were going to have to get a lot of pucks to him, but aside from that were just excited.
Michigan State has a couple of real consistencies, Kyle said. Number one: Rick Comley is a very good coach. Number two: they have an exceptional goaltender. And number three: they have a very good work ethic. They have some very good players and they beat us twice this year down in their building. We will have our hands full.
The Lakers are taking what they learned from this series and applying it to the next round.
We got to play one of our rivals and there was a lot of intensity and that will help us prepare for next weekend, Roque said. We set ourselves up to work in this environment and well work hard going into next weekend.