With comeback tie, win over Boston University, Northern Michigan showing progress by ‘having the belief’

19 Oct 18: Philip Beaulieu (Northern Michigan - 25). The St. Cloud State University Huskies host the Northern Michigan University Wildcats in a non-conference matchup at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, MN. (Jim Rosvold)
Philip Beaulieu anchors a tough Northern Michigan back end this season and has posted four assists through four games on the young year (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Northern Michigan coach Grant Potulny didn’t want to take all the credit for his team’s incredible comeback at Boston University.

Down 4-1 on Friday night in Boston, the Wildcats scored three third-period goals and hung on to force a tie against the then-No. 20 ranked Terriers. That excellent third period gave the Wildcats the momentum to come back Saturday and earn a 4-3 win.

But according to Potulny, the main reason for NMU’s pushback in the Boston series was down to captain Philip Beaulieu.

“He’s done an amazing job building our team in the locker room,” Potulny said of his senior defenseman. “And what’s really done behind closed doors and away from the rink has allowed our team to be in a situation where you have the ability to come back because your mindset is right.”

Potulny said he was going over scenarios in his head to start the period, but when Vincent de May scored a little over five minutes in, then Caleb Schroer got another less than a minute later, the Wildcats coach said he knew they had a real chance.

“The technical aspect of it was, let’s just get one and see what happens. Then we got two in a hurry and all of a sudden, it was a real game,” Potulny said. “(NMU goalie) John (Hawthorne) helped us get to that point with his stellar play, but I was just hoping to get within one and be able to pull the goalie. As the period goes on you’re running through scenarios about who you’re going to have out there and what you’re going to try to do, and we didn’t even have to get to that. A lot of that goes back onto the guys for having the belief.”

The Wildcats are now 2-1-1 after their first four games. It’s still a small sample size, but they’ve been able to score — they’ve got 13 goals so far. The most important thing that Potulny can see offensively for the Wildcats is where those goals are coming from. First he said, he can see obvious improvement over last season in the team’s 5-on-5 play.

“It’s nice to have the ability to come back in games, nice to extend the lead,” he said. “You always hope to play defensively and hold teams to as few shots as you can, but sometimes you’re going to have teams that have major league talent and you might have to score four to win. Showing you have the ability to do that one gives you confidence and two lets you know you can stay alive in every game.”

But perhaps most importantly for NMU is how involved the defense is in the offense. Potulny said he has seven defensmen who are expert puck-movers, including Beaulieu, Ben Newhouse and Hank Sorensen.

“Phil’s got a point a game, and Newhouse and Sorensen are just under that. Mike Van Unen had a coming our party last weekend. I think their ability to move pucks and advance play and get us in areas where they are transporting or making a play to put players in good spots when they recieve it is making a difference in our ability to generate offense,” Potulny said. “They’ve helped in the offensive zone by keeping pucks in good areas, whether it’s on the net, or it’s making a play to their partner or a seam play.”

He highlighted a particular goal from Saturday’s game against Terriers on Saturday — the one Griffin Loughran scored to put the Wildcats up 3-2 early in the third period — as a prime example of his defensive corps’ puck prowess.

“Phil was on the blue line doing his PK Subban impression, and Darien (Craighead) supports it,” Potulny said. “’Griff’ gets to the net and phil makes a great play. That’s been a difference for us. We have six guys back there, seven, that can generate offense.”

Surging Alaska keeps surprising

First, Alaska almost beat Denver twice before ultimately losing both games in the first week of the season. Then, the Nanooks went to Houghton, Mich., and picked up two key WCHA wins against conference foe Michigan Tech.

But it was this weekend’s results against top 10 Penn State that really turned some people’s heads on the Nanooks.

The Nittany Lions won 7-0 in their opening game Thursday, but the Nanooks turned around the next day and won 4-0, recording something of a “signature win” for them.

“Tonight was a great response from our group,” Alaska head coach Erik Largen told the Nanooks team website after the game. “We played a selfless team game tonight. Now we need to reset and get ready for our in-state rivals next weekend.”

The win was the first nonconference victory for Alaska (not counting nonconference games played against WCHA teams) since the 2015-16 season, and their first road nonleague victory since 2014-15. In addition, they were able to hand Penn State its first-ever shutout in the modern era. (They were once shut out by Michigan in 1918.)

BGSU gets the sweep

Bowling Green lost to Western Michigan 5-2 in the third place game of the Ice Breaker tournament two weekends ago. This past weekend, they were sure not to let that happen again.

The Falcons swept the Broncos by 2-1 scored in both nights of their home-and-home series against their former CCHA rivals. On Friday in Bowling Green, the Falcons got the win in regulation on goals from Frederic Letourneau and Max Johnson, who scored on the power play late in the third.

On Saturday, BG needed overtime to earn a comeback win in Kalamazoo. Western scored early in the second before Alec Rauhauser tied it up midway through the middle frame. Cameron Wright then potted the game-winner just 11 seconds into the extra time

“We knew Western was going to play harder tonight and they certainly did, and I think there were times in the game where we looked a little tired based on the PK opportunities we had, and how hard last night’s game was,” BG head coach Ty Eigner said following Saturday’s game. “But all-in-all, we asked our guys to come here and compete, and they certainly did. To come out of here with a win against a really good team like Western Michigan is good for us.”

The Falcons, now 3-2-0, start their WCHA conference games this weekend with a home series against Michigan Tech.