MARQUETTE, Mich. — Out of tragedy, sometimes a team can find itself.
The host Northern Michigan Wildcats, dealing with the on-campus loss of a women’s soccer player over the weekend, rallied in front of their home crowd to defeat their Upper Peninsula rivals, the Michigan Tech Huskies, 2-1, at the Berry Events Center tonight.
“I thought it was a great show of support from the students and the people who were at the game,” said Wildcats’ coach Walt Kyle. “I think it was a good effort by our guys.”
Wildcats’ winger Darren Nowick dumped the puck into the Huskies’ zone and forced a turnover to center Erik Higby, who skated the puck in front of the MTU goal and fired a shot that beat goaltender Jamie Phillips with 16 seconds left in the second period. The goal proved to be the game-winner.
The Wildcats (6-8-3 overall) jumped out to a quick start and thought they had a goal just 42 seconds in when a goalmouth scramble led to the puck sliding behind Phillips, who was making his first career start. The puck was ruled kicked in, so the play was waved off.
Shortly after the call, Huskies’ center Dennis Rix took a penalty for charging and the Wildcats made short work of the rookie goaltender. Winger Ryan Aynsley took a pass from center Stephan Vigier and fed the puck across the rink to a waiting C.J. Ludwig. The defenseman blasted a slap shot past Phillips at 1:29.
Looking to recover from the slow start, the Huskies (4-8-1 overall) had their first good scoring chance when winger David Johnstone fired a shot that Wildcats’ goaltender Jared Coreau had trouble handling and the rebound bounced just over winger Ryan Furne’s stick.
The Huskies forced two straight power plays, but came up empty on both attempts. Their best scoring chance came when winger Alex Petan fired a slap pass to Furne, whose redirected shot trickled wide of the Northern Michigan goal.
NMU defenseman Kyle Follmer had a chance late in the opening frame to extend the lead when he picked up the puck along the left boards, skated it around the net and attempted a wraparound. Phillips stood tall to make one of his 23 saves on the night.
“First period, I felt we got off to a slow start,” said Huskies’ coach Mel Pearson. “That gave them momentum. I thought Jamie Phillips came in and did a real nice job for us. All in all, I thought we battled hard.”
Winger Cohen Adair had a chance just 1:33 into the second period to extend the lead when he took a pass on the left side of the ice, but his stuff attempt was stopped by Phillips.
A little over five minutes in, Huskies’ winger Blake Pietila, named earlier in the day to the U.S. preliminary World Junior team, carried the puck around the net to the right boards before firing a shot on goal. Coreau kicked the rebound out to Huskies’ center Tanner Kero, whose stick just missed the puck.
Both teams traded puck possessions over the next several minutes. Kero took a penalty with 8:36 remaining in the middle frame, but the Wildcats couldn’t muster much offensively. The game remained 1-0 until the last minute of the period.
The Huskies thought they had tied the game 12 seconds later when Petan’s shot rebounded out to a crashing Kero, who buried the rebound. The goal was called back when it was determined that Kero’s foot interfered with Coreau, causing the Wildcats’ netminder to fall.
“I just felt a guy’s stick on the back of my leg,” said Coreau. “I told the ref, but I don’t think he was too pleased.”
Both squads traded power plays in the third period until Higby was whistled for slashing at 12:30. The Huskies finally got on the board when defenseman Brad Stebner took a pass on left point from defenseman Walker Hyland on the right point. Stebner’s long wrist shot eluded Coreau at 13:26.
The Huskies had another great chance to score on their next rush when Rix and center Jujhar Khaira skated in on a two-on-one. Rix’s shot was stopped and the rebound kicked out to Khaira. Khaira’s shot was gloved by Coreau.
Pearson pulled Phillips with 50.6 seconds remaining. Unfortunately, the Huskies couldn’t get anything near Coreau, who finished the night with 25 saves in the victory.