HOUGHTON, Mich. — Whenever the Michigan Tech Huskies and Northern Michigan Wildcats tangle, you can throw out the team records, because typically, they don’t mean much. The hosting Huskies were riding a two-game winning streak while the Wildcats had just one win in their last four. Saturday night however, the Wildcats got a pair of goals from captain Justin Florek and rode some great goaltending from Jared Coreau to a 5-2 victory at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
“For us, there was a little bit of emotion in the game,” said Wildcats coach Walt Kyle. “Andrew Cherniwchan lost his dad this week; we were trying to get this one for (Andrew) tonight.”
With a full two minutes of two-man advantage, the Wildcats broke a 2-2 second period tie as Florek got open in front of Huskies netminder Kevin Genoe and found the back of the net at 13:47. Winger Tyler Gron fed Florek the pass from the left corner.
With the crowd buzzing from before the drop of the first puck of the night, the Huskies jumped all over the Wildcats (11-8-5 overall) early. The visitors, who improved to 9-3-3 when scoring first, seemed comfortable with letting the Huskies run wild while they sat back and waited their turn. They didn’t have to wait long, as Florek snatched up a pass from defenseman Jake Baker, cut in front of Huskies’ starter Josh Robinson, and scored at 4:00 with a backhand.
“It was a great atmosphere,” said Florek. “I think capitalizing on the opportunities have been huge for us this year.”
The Huskies (11-12-1 overall) fought their way back down the ice, but couldn’t find any room behind Coreau. Building off his solid goaltending, the Wildcats forced the puck back down the rink. Winger Tyler Gron, skating down the right side of the rink, fired a puck at Robinson that hit Wildcats defenseman Kyle Follmer on its way toward the Huskies’ goal. Follmer’s redirection was all that was needed to beat Robinson again at 4:42.
Huskies coach Mel Pearson switched in Genoe for Robinson a minute later. Genoe, who hadn’t seen action since the last time these two teams met on Dec. 16, finished the game with 17 saves.
The Huskies had a golden opportunity to cut the lead in half two minutes later when Wildcats defender C.J. Ludwig was whistled for boarding. Freshman winger Blake Pietila took a cross-ice pass from freshman winger David Johnstone, but hit the wide side of the net. Sophomore winger Ryan Furne had a long wrister from the blue line that hit the post to Coreau’s left. The Huskies had a third chance when sophomore winger Milos Gordic tipped a shot from sophomore defenseman Daniel Sova toward the crease, but Coreau, who made 28 stops, was equal to the chance.
“They came out harder in the first period and scored two quick ones,” said Johnstone. “It’s hard to get back from that. We battled hard, but came up short in the end.”
Despite having 1:46 of a two-man advantage early in the second period, the Huskies remained two goals behind until the Wildcats were whistled for too many men on the ice during a power play of their own. On the ensuing power play, Johnstone cut into the Wildcats’ lead when he buried a rebound at 8:35. Blake Pietila and assistant captain Steven Seigo assisted on the goal.
“We didn’t get off to a good start,” said Pearson. “We battled back. I was proud of our kids for that. Then we had that five-on-three, and that was the turning point in the game, I thought.”
The Huskies got another power play shortly after the goal and David Johnstone tied the game on a one-timer off a pass from Blake Pietila at 10:28. Seigo again assisted on the goal, Johnstone’s sixth of the season.
Looking to regain their two-goal lead, the Wildcats came out strong in the third, and center Matt Thurber needed just 41 seconds to give them that lead. Taking a pass from Gron, Thurber exploded down the right side of the rink, waited until Genoe set himself up, and then ripped a wrist shot over Genoe’s glove.
After the Wildcats regained the two-goal lead, both teams traded chances on power plays, but neither team could score on the advantage. Pearson, looking to spark his squad, pulled Genoe with just over a minute to go. Unfortunately, Follmer hit Gron with a breakout pass, and Gron shot the puck into the yawning goal with 55 seconds left to seal the game.