2008-09 Northern Michigan Season Preview

If nothing else can be said about Walt Kyle — and plenty can be said about the Northern Michigan head coach — he certainly has a way with words. Kyle is obviously jazzed about the Wildcats’ prospects this season.

“I think one of the reasons we’ll be strong is because of our leadership,” says Kyle, “because when you into a year you can always project the players that at the end of the day for your team to be better you have to have the same kind of chemistry and leadership and all that stuff.”

Who doesn’t understand that? All that stuff. Makes perfect sense.

All That Stuff

The Wildcats were picked to finish the season in pretty good company by both the coaches and the media in preseason polls. If they finish either fourth or fifth as predicted, they’ll likely be rubbing elbows with two teams that made it to the Frozen Four last year, a team that won the national championship two seasons ago, and another team that finished one point out of first place last season and is poised to become a perennial powerhouse.

And how would the Wildcats do this? All that stuff.

Northern Michigan returns 17 letter winners and loses just three, a year after fielding a rookie class of 10 players. Last year’s youngsters are now seasoned veterans, and Kyle says that he’s relying on their experience to help pick up where NMU left off last season.

To finish the second half of regular-season play in 2007-08, the ‘Cats went 7-6-3. Two of those ties were against eventual CCHA champions Michigan, the Wildcats split with Notre Dame and swept Michigan State — the league’s Frozen Four representatives of the past two seasons.

After earning home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs, the Wildcats dropped the opening game of that series to Ohio State before recovering and taking the next two from the Buckeyes. Then they went to East Lansing and beat the defending national champions again in a two-game sweep.

Sure, they lost to Michigan in CCHA semifinal action in Joe Louis Arena, but the next day they beat Notre Dame — the team that would be stopped only by Boston College in the national title game.

Very few teams get to go home on in any season with a win.



That’s some stuff.

A Coincidence They’d Like to Avoid

“I think … there are certain expectations in Marquette this season and I think that’s probably because they come from having no expectations a year ago,” says Kyle. “That’s when we played 13 or 14 freshmen and sophomores and got off to a one-and-eight start.

“I give a lot of credit to the guys for playing well down the stretch. They worked hard and were able to keep their heads so we could finish strong last season.”

About that 1-8 start. The young Wildcats began their 2007-08 CCHA schedule with two home games against Michigan, followed by two road games against MSU, and another pair at home against Miami. Not surprisingly, NMU was 0-6 in that stretch.

Here’s a coincidence. This season the Wildcats begin their CCHA schedule with two home games against Michigan, two road games against Michigan State, and another pair at home against Notre Dame. Who makes this schedule?

Some Numbers

Last season, sophomore goaltender Brian Stewart logged nearly 2,000 minutes in net and earned a .918 save percentage. He made it look easy. The 6’4″ netminder from British Columbia obviously has the capability of stealing every possible angle for opposing shooters, but he also moves with speed and grace belying his tall frame.

Three of NMU’s leading scorers from a year ago return, senior Phil Fox and sophomores Nick Sirota and Mark Olver, whom Kyle calls a “very, very special player.”

Both Stewart and Olver will be impact players for the entire league.