NMU hockey: Kyle compressing forward lines to compensate for absent Wildcats

MARQUETTE – Going into the 2013-14 season, Northern Michigan University hockey coach Walt Kyle said he had a deeper group of forwards than last year.

One game against the Wisconsin Badgers changed that idea.

Unable to keep up offensively with the star-studded forward lines of No. 2 Bucky in a 5-2 Game 1 loss, Kyle consolidated the Wildcats’ three scoring lines into two and added an extra defenseman for Game 2.

The Wildcats didn’t get the final result they were looking for in a 2-1 loss in Madison, Wis.. But Kyle did find a formula that may get the shorthanded ‘Cats through the early part of the season, starting with 7 p.m. games today and Saturday against former CCHA rival Nebraska-Omaha at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.

“We tried to load up what we perceived were our best offensive guys on three lines,” Kyle said about the Friday loss in Madison. “We weren’t very effective, so we compressed it to two lines with the guys who were available to us. We were better, for sure.”

Two key forwards who were missing in Madison will also be unavailable against the Mavericks this weekend.

Freshman forward Sami Salminen is ineligible for three more games as part of a five-game suspension for playing against professionals while in his native Finland. He’ll make his NMU regular season debut a week from Saturday in Houghton against Michigan Tech.

The ‘Cats are also without their top returning scorer from a year ago in Reed Seckel, who has spent more of the semester watching practices, not skating, due to an undisclosed injury.

In addition, sophomore forward Ryan Aynsley had to leave Saturday’s loss to the Badgers due to an injury. His status is now in doubt for the regular-season home openers against the Mavs.

“One of the things we have to do is find some forwards who can score,” Kyle said Saturday in Madison. “With two goals on the weekend from defensemen and a forward that got a power play goal, we have to find some forwards that can score.

“We’re not as deep right now,” said Kyle after Tuesday’s practice. “We know we have some guys out and are not where we need to be.”

NMU senior captain C.J. Ludwig and junior transfer Luke Eibler were the two defensemen who scored for Northern in Madison. Senior forward Stephan Vigier was the only forward to record a goal.

Vigier worked with sophomore Cohen Adair and senior Erik Higby in Game 1. But Vigier got his goal on the power play alongside junior defenseman Mitch Jones, Ludwig, junior forward Ryan Daugherty and freshman forward Shane Sooth with 1:19 to go in the game.

In Game 2, Adair was replaced on the forward line by Daugherty. That night, Vigier was inches from tying the game with 33.9 seconds left in regulation – his shot hit the crossbar and deflected out of play.

Kyle called the line on Saturday night “average,” but Vigier felt he, Daugherty and Higby got better as the night went along.

“We all have chemistry together,” said Vigier, who played alongside Higby as a sophomore and Daugherty as a junior. “We all think the same thing. We have the same ideas out there.

“It worked well, especially in the third period. We had a lot of nice chances, we just couldn’t bury them.”

The Wildcats’ other scoring line in Game 2 featured Sooth, freshman forward Dominik Shine and sophomore forward Darren Nowick, with Adair and Aynsley also rotating on occasion as a third line that was centered by Sooth, Nowick or Vigier.

In Game 1, Nowick played alongside Daugherty and Rose – who was benched in Game 2 – while Sooth and Shine were alongside the now-injured Aynsley.

Kyle said he expected more out of Nowick in Madison after the sophomore finished with just four shots on goal and a minus-3 rating for the weekend.

Nowick admitted he needed to do better, though playing alongside Sooth and Shine was a positive, he said.

“Shine brings a lot of speed to that line,” Nowick said. “Sooth is just a playmaker. His head is always up. He always has the puck.”

Kyle said his best forward line in Madison was the fourth line of junior Ryan Kesti, junior Nate Taurence and senior Jake Johnson, with Kesti being the weekend’s MVP.

Kyle said if the entire team played with the same energy that Kesti, Taurence and Johnson did, Northern would have been in much better shape against the Badgers.

“Guys are going to get opportunities to show us who they are,” Kyle said. “I thought a great example of that was Ryan Kesti last weekend.

“I thought he was our best player. For him to go in and seize that opportunity, I think that was outstanding. If he continues to play like that, we’ve found a real good asset.”