After battling NMU on the ice last weekend, University of Michigan hockey is no longer ranked No. 1.
The Wildcats defeated the Wolverines with a score of 5-3 on Friday, Oct. 21 and tied 3-3 Saturday, Oct. 22 at the Berry Events Center.
“We didn’t look at the number in front of their name, we just saw them as the University of Michigan,” said senior forward Justin Florek. “We knew that we could beat them, and that’s what we did.”
Both games in the series were close until the end, with each team quickly responding to the others’ goals.
On Friday, freshman forward Dylan Walchuk was the first to score at 15:23 into the second period, and Michigan came back to score at 15:53. Just 11 seconds later, junior forward Matt Thurber responded with a goal, putting Northern up 2-1.
“I thought those goals, being able to answer, were critical,” said head coach Walt Kyle. “I thought we played really, really well through the course of the weekend.”
Freshman defenseman Mitch Jones scored just a minute into the third period, but Michigan came back with two goals in the middle of the period to tie the game.
In the last three minutes of play, senior forward Tyler Gron scored to regain the lead, followed by an empty-net goal by Florek with 25 seconds remaining.
“Michigan kept fighting back, but we tried to stay a step ahead of them,” Florek said. “Fortunately things went our way Friday night, and I just credit that to a lot of momentum and hard work from the team.”
The only period Kyle was unhappy with during the course of the weekend, he said, was the first period on Saturday.
“Michigan came out with a different level of play on Saturday,” Kyle said. “We weren’t prepared enough for it.”
Michigan took an early lead on Saturday, scoring the only two goals in the first period.
“We just had to do a gut check there and just look ourselves in the mirror and see who we really are,” Florek said. “I think it really showed coming out that second and third period.”
The ’Cats closed up Michigan’s lead with back-to-back power play goals from Gron at 10:27 and 15:51 in the second period. Michigan regained the lead by scoring with just under a minute remaining in the second.
Jones scored less than a minute into the third, an otherwise scoreless period.
At the tail end of regulation time, sophomore forward Reed Seckel received a five-minute major for contact to the head, a penalty which lasted all but 40 seconds of overtime.
“Obviously we’re not happy with a tie,” Florek said. “But Michigan is one of the most skilled teams in the country, and being able to kill off a five-minute penalty against them is something we can take pride in.”
The game was taken into a shootout, which Michigan won in three rounds for an extra conference point.
Intensity of play was high throughout the weekend, and penalties followed in suit.
Northern took a total of 20 penalties over the weekend for a total of 62 minutes, and Michigan tallied 15 penalties for 52 minutes.
“It’s hockey,” Florek said. “Emotions are flying high and everyone just wants to do their best out there.”
With penalties comes special teams play, and the Wildcats capitalized, scoring on two of three power plays on Saturday.
“We won the special teams battle for sure,” Kyle said. “When you win special teams, you put yourself in the position to be successful.”
Fan support showed during the weekend, with a sold-out crowd on Saturday.
“I can’t tell you how happy I was with the building in general,” Kyle said. “The student section was unbelievable.”
This weekend, the ’Cats take on Western Michigan University (1-0-1 GLIAC in Kalamazoo for their first conference road series. The puck drops at 7 p.m. both nights.