The realm of college hockey is dominated by large, powerhouse programs like the University of Michigan and Boston College, and it can be easy for smaller schools like Northern Michigan to get lost in the shuffle. This season, however, the team has put itself back on the map.
In the 14 seasons from 1979-92, the NMU Wildcats qualified for the National tournament six times. Amongst those trips stand three Frozen Four appearances, including a 1991 National Championship. Under the leadership of NMU head coach Walt Kyle, the ’Cats are finally back in the National spotlight and are headed to their first NCAA tournament since 1999.
This year’s success is due in part to the accomplishments of one individual: junior forward Mark Olver.
“I think teams have started to notice who Northern Michigan is. It’s quite a feat to make the tourney,” Olver said.
Olver has led the Wildcats in scoring each year since he arrived at NMU, and was recently named to the first team All-CCHA squad for the 2010 season. The honor comes in the wake of Olver capturing the CCHA scoring title after tallying 35 points off 17 goals and 18 assists. He is also a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker award, arguably the most prestigious award in college hockey.
“I think it’s great, I think (Olver’s) certainly very deserving. (He’s) had an outstanding year, he’s leading the league in scoring, and he’s certainly one of the catalysts on our team, and I think it’s a great honor for him,” said head coach Walt Kyle. “You can’t be a successful team without great players. You have to have guys who are all-league candidates, and All-American candidates, and Hobey candidates. You have to have guys perform like that if you want to be good.”
Olver was excited to even be nominated for the Hobey.
“It’s quite an honor,” he said. “There’s 58 teams in the league, and only 10 get nominated. It’s quite an accomplishment for me. It just shows what type of success we’ve had as a team this year.”
The top three finalists for the award, a field known as the “Hobey Hat Trick,” will be announced on Wednesday, March 31.
Kyle believes that Olver’s success towards the Hobey is dependent on his performance in the NCAA tournament, as the Hobey awards committee is based out of nearby Minneapolis.
Olver, however, isn’t concerned about being named as a Hat Trick finalist.
“It’s just nice to be nominated, it’s nice to be in that 10, and anything else is just icing on the cake,” he said.
He also said that he is focusing mostly on beating St. Cloud in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, March 26.
“We’re going to have a good weekend this weekend,” he said. “We’re going to show teams who Northern Michigan is.”