What happened last weekend?
The Huskies played a very confusing weekend of hockey in South Bend, Ind., as they took 29 penalties of all varieties in a pair of losses to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. On Friday night, the Huskies played well, but fell 3–2 while holding the Irish to 1-for-10 on the power play. Sunday afternoon, the Huskies faced three five-minute majors and a pair of misconducts, and in the end came up short, 7–3.
On Friday night, the Northern Michigan Wildcats tied their game with the Nebraska–Omaha Mavericks just 7:09 into the second period when Stephan Vigier scored. The game remained tied until the Mavericks broke the tie with just under three minutes left in regulation. With the game tied 1–1 in the second period Saturday, the Wildcats struck three times in five and a half minutes to break the game open. In the end, the Wildcats finished with five goals in the second and third periods to skate away with a 6–3 victory.
What did the Huskies do well?
While it was tough for the Huskies to get much flow and player rotation going in either game over the weekend, they did have some players take big strides. Sophomore C.J. Eick struck shorthanded on Friday night and junior Blake Hietala and freshman Tyler Heinonen combined for a pair of goals on Sunday.
Eick’s tally was his first of the season, but certainly not his first attempt to score. With his speed, head coach Mel Pearson’s staff hope that he will continue to drive the puck down the rink at every opportunity.
“I think C.J.’s a better player,” said assistant coach Bill Muckalt. “He’s got more confidence this year with the puck. He’s learned how to score at this level. He’s going to get chances with his speed.”
Heinonen’s two goals are proof that his offensive game has adjusted nicely to the college game. Pearson’s staff challenges him to round his game out, however.
“I think Tyler has a knack to score,” said Muckalt. “He’s shown that at every level he’s been at. Our staff is trying to get him to play harder away from the puck.”
Having spent three seasons trying to find his way into the lineup, Hietala has made the most of his opportunity this year. In three games, the junior has three assists, good for tops on the squad thus far.
“Blake Hietala had a good weekend,” said Muckalt. “It was tough because he doesn’t really play on the special teams much, but when he was out there, he was very effective. He was rewarded on Sunday with a couple of assists.”
What do the Huskies still need to work on?
The most glaring issue the Huskies are combating at this point is all the penalties. While not all the penalties are bad ones, the Huskies have taken several costly ones thus far. This early into the season, these penalties disrupt a number of things Pearson’s coaching staff have been hoping to evaluate to this point.
“It takes away from the momentum of our team when we are in the penalty box,” said Muckalt. “It forces us to expend energy for the guys who are killing. For the guys that aren’t killing, it’s tough to stay in the game.”
While the power play did score on Friday night, there is still plenty of room for improvement moving forward.
“We’ve just got to underhandle the puck, get shots through, get screens, and get to the net,” said Muckalt, when asked about the power play. “Those are keys.”
The inside scoop: a look at the Wildcats
The Wildcats are 1–3 on the season after beating the Mavericks on Saturday night. The veteran-laden squad has six upperclassmen leading the way in scoring. However, records and statistics tend to be poor predictors when these two teams square off.
“They will try to be very defense-orientated,” said Muckalt. “Obviously, they are going to play a very structured game. It’s a rivalry game. It’s about showing up and competing.”
Senior defenseman C.J. Ludwig leads the Wildcats with a pair of goals and five points through the first four games. To date, he has scored one third of the total points he scored all of last season.
Senior forward Stephan Vigier has a team-high three goals and sits second in scoring with four points.
Where the Wildcats appear most vulnerable is in net, where a pair of sophomores attempt to fill the void left behind by the graduation of Jared Coreau.
Friday night’s game will start at 7:07 p.m. at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. Saturday night’s game starts at the same time at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton.