Northern Michigan salvages CCHA series split with Ferris State via 3-0 win
MARQUETTE – As Northern Michigan University junior goaltender Jared Coreau made his way to the congratulatory line with his teammates following a 3-0 CCHA victory over Ferris State on Saturday during the Pink Wave at the Berry Events Center, he was stopped by head coach Walt Kyle, who had some word for the victorious goaltender.
“It’s about time.”
For only the second time in his collegiate career and first this season, Coreau finished with a complete game shutout as the Wildcats salvaged a series split with the Bulldogs following the 3-1 loss on Friday in Marquette.
Coreau only needed to make 19 saves Saturday for the shutout after stopping 15 of 17 shots the night before in defeat.
The Bulldogs only tested Coreau once in the first 20 minutes, forcing him just to make one save in the first period before firing 10 shots on goal in the second and eight in the third.
“It’s good for all the wrong reasons,” Coreau said about the shutout. “I just want to win. Even if I have five goals against, as long as we get six, I’m happy.
“It’s something that was probably expected a little bit earlier to happen, so it feels pretty good.”
The 34 total stops this weekend were the least amount of saves Coreau has made in a single weekend this season, with the previous low coming in the 2013-13 openers against Wisconsin in Green Bay. That weekend Coreau made 37 saves in two wins.
Through 29 games and with seven more to play in the regular season, Coreau has made 34 or more saves in 10 different games.
Coreau said he prefers the nights he only has to make 19, especially if it means he gets the shutout.
“The guys played amazing this weekend,” Coreau said. “The defense, they were backchecking really hard. The offensive zone we were taking care of business.”
Kyle’s “It’s about time” comment to Coreau, which accompanied a hug, could have also been directed at the Wildcats’ power play unit, which not only took the ice six times on Saturday, but it got a goal late as well.
Junior forward Stephan Vigier one-timed a power play pass from senior forward Matt Thurber into the back of the Bulldogs net 15:32 into the third period after the Wildcats had come up empty on their previous five power play chances.
While happy to get the chances, Kyle said he was frustrated with the power play after it failed to score the first five times it took the ice. The goal by Vigier changed all that, however.
“Finally we got a little something going on that,” Kyle said about the power play. “I think that was a big deal. I think it was nice to see Vigier get a goal too. It was a great play by Thurber.”
While many things have improved for Northern since the holiday break, like its penalty kill (88.4 percent kill rate) and record (6-3-1 since Jan. 1), the power play has still been a dud, in part because it’s rarely on the ice.
In three of the four previous series in 2013, NMU had five or less power play chances the entire weekend.
Saturday’s six power plays matched the six opportunities NMU had against Miami on Jan. 12. Like that weekend in Marquette, NMU had two on the opening night of the series to finish with eight for the weekend.
NMU sophomore defenseman turned center Mitch Jones said possession and pressure were the keys Saturday to drawing penalties.
“Right through the lineup we did a really good job,” Jones said. “We made a couple adjustments – where to put the puck in their zone and where to forecheck. I think we did a really good job of that.
“We had less turnovers at the blue line, which ends up into more forechecking schemes. We had some pretty good pressure in their zone, which generated some power plays.”
NMU had three power play chances alone in the first period Saturday, but it wasn’t until the second period the Wildcats got on the board.
Jones scored his first goal of the season after seven assists 8:09 into the second period by sniping the puck top shelf.
Wildcat sophomore forward Reed Seckel then beat out sophomore teammate Ryan Daugherty in the race to 10 goals with 26 seconds left in the second period to put Northern up 2-0 with assists from Thurber and their new replacement linemate, freshman Darren Nowick.
“I thought we played a good game,” Kyle said. “We played well (Friday) night, but (the puck) didn’t go in. We had a number of great opportunities (Friday) night and we weren’t able to score. Tonight, the pucks went in for us.”
The victory allowed NMU at 23 league points to get back into the chase for home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
Seventh-place Bowling Green State lost to last-place Michigan State, meaning the Falcons remain five points up on NMU with a series scheduled Feb. 22-23 in Bowling Green.
No. 8 Lake Superior State is three points up on NMU after being off this weekend. The Wildcats and Lakers meet in the final regular season weekend of CCHA play March 1-2 in Marquette.
Ninth-place Michigan was swept by Notre Dame this weekend and is two points ahead of Northern, but has played two more league games than everyone else except Ferris State and Alaska.
The Spartans are four points back of 10th-place NMU, and will host the Wildcats on Friday and Saturday in East Lansing.
“We’re definitely in the hunt,” Jones said. “We just have to worry about putting big games together. We have the team. We showed it out there this weekend. If we put a good game together, we have a chance to win every game.”
NOTES: Thurber and Seckel’s linemate, junior Erik Higby, missed his second-straight game due to injury. … NMU freshman forward Cohen Adair missed Saturday’s game after suffering an injury during Friday’s 3-1 loss to Ferris. … FSU goaltender CJ Motte finished with 30 saves for Ferris, having to make 13 saves in the first period to keep the game scoreless.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens.