DULUTH, Minn. — Northern Michigan hadn’t scored a goal against Minnesota Duluth the last two years while losing in the Superior Cup against goalie Alex Stalock.
That shutout streak continued through one period Sunday night, 165 minutes total, but the Wildcats of Marquette, Mich., broke through on the way to a 3-1 non-conference victory before 3,505 at the DECC.
UMD sophomore Kenny Reiter made his debut in goal and was graded the team’s top player by coach Scott Sandelin. Grades for the rest of the No. 18-ranked Bulldogs weren’t so high.
“There was a lack of enthusiasm, a lack of energy; we were kind of flat all day,” said sophomore center Jack Connolly, who had UMD’s only goal. “We fell behind, tied it up 1-1, but then fell apart after that.”
Northern Michigan had something to do with UMD’s mood. The Wildcats were one of the hottest teams in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association at the end of last season, going 8-2-1 the final 11 games and eliminating eventual Division I runner up Miami of Ohio on the road in the league playoffs. They’re picked to finish fifth in the 12-team league in 2009-10, and have some skilled players, like junior center Mark Olver of Burnaby, British Columbia, who had a goal and two assists.
Yet, Northern Michigan started the season with a 5-3 loss Friday at Michigan Tech, in the first round of the Superior Cup.
“I let our guys have it after that game,” said Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle. “We have skill guys, but you first have to have a work-based game. You have to play and compete first and we were much better doing that [Sunday].”
The day’s results left the four entrants, including Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State, all 1-1. Lake Superior State defeated Michigan Tech 3-1 Sunday in Houghton, Mich.
The game matched back-up goalies, as Northern Michigan started sophomore Reid Ellingson of Cloquet, who started his career with the Wildcats in 2007-08, then was with the Green Bay Gamblers in the U.S. Hockey League last season.
Reiter, from Pittsburgh, had a red-shirt year in 2007-08, watched Stalock last season and backed up Brady Hjelle in the season opener.
“I didn’t have nearly the nerves I thought I would,” said Reiter. “I felt I played my angles well and was technically pretty good. I would’ve felt much better, though, with a win.”
The Bulldogs came into the game with four straight wins over Northern Michigan, and led in shots on goal 15-12 through a scoreless first period. However, Northern Michigan finished with a 35-33 advantage and had more jump.
The Wildcats finished a flurry at 3:34 of the second period when defenseman Erik Gustafsson of Sweden scored. Less than four minutes later, Connolly’s second goal of the season tied it from the right edge of the crease.
Winger Ray Kaunisto completed a two-on-one break with 64 seconds left in the period for a 2-1 Northern Michigan lead and Olver made if 3-1 on a power play with 2:19 left in the game.
UMD, 0-of-8 on power plays, was without three forwards: Mike Connolly, out for a violation of team rules, Travis Oleksuk, who sprained a knee Friday and is sidelined three-to-six weeks, and Kyle Schmidt, out with a sore ankle.
“We were sluggish; we were just hanging in there most of the game,” said Sandelin. “Kenny kept us in there.”