NMU hockey: Wildcats searching for offense five-on-five at Alaska

MARQUETTE – Of the 13 goals scored in six games by the Northern Michigan University hockey team, only four have come while playing five-on-five.

For Wildcats head coach Walt Kyle, that’s not acceptable heading into a pair of 11:07 p.m. games on today and Saturday against the Alaska Nanooks in Fairbanks, Alaska.

“Four five-on-five goals in six games is not good enough,” Kyle said. “We’re better than that.”

Kyle’s concerns are reflected in this week’s statistical rankings where the Wildcats power play, having scored a league-high eight goals, ranks third in conversions at 19.5 percent.

The scoring offense as a whole, however, is only averaging 2.17 goals per game, which is good for eighth.

“It hasn’t been very good,” Kyle said bluntly.

Of the Wildcats four even-strength goals, two have come from senior forward Stephan Vigier, who also has three of the Wildcats’ eight power play goals as well.

His five goals in six games ties him with the Nanooks’ Cody Kunyk and Nolan Huysmans, as well as Bowling Green’s Bryce Williamson and Ben Murphy, for the league lead in goals scored.

Besides Vigier, the only other ‘Cats with multiple goals this season are freshman defenseman turned forward Brock Maschmeyer and senior defenseman C.J. Ludwig, who both have two power play tallies.

Senior forward Jake Johnson and junior defenseman Luke Eibler have the other two even-strength tallies; junior forward Ryan Daugherty has just one power play goal after scoring twice in a 53-second span during the third period of an exhibition against Laurentian; and senior forward Erik Higby’s lone goal came on an empty Nebraska-Omaha net.

“I haven’t seen Higby create the chances he’s capable of and I haven’t seen Daugherty get the chances he’s capable of,” Kyle said. “(Darren) Nowick is a guy we thought would do more offensively. Hopefully they will as it goes.”

The Wildcats won’t be getting any offense out of Nowick this weekend in Fairbanks because the sophomore forward has been ruled out after injuring his arm in the first period at Michigan Tech on Saturday.

Northern will have junior forward Reed Seckel at the Carlson Center after the he made his 2013-14 debut last Friday and Saturday against the Huskies.

After missing the first four games with an undisclosed upper body injury, Seckel was credited with an assist on Vigier’s first period goal Friday in Marquette against Tech.

Kyle said he expects Seckel to be a catalyst for the offense moving forward.

“Seckel has good speed,” Kyle said. “He always wants to be around the puck. He creates loose pucks through the forecheck. When he has it on his stick, he can make plays.”

Seckel isn’t the ultimate solution to Northern’s scoring woes, though, and neither is the addition of freshman forward Sami Salminen, who made his regular season debut Saturday in Houghton after sitting out five games for playing against professionals in his native Finland.

According to Kyle, the key to NMU finding success offensively is by maintaining puck possession in the offensive zone.

With the exception of Saturday’s 4-1 loss at Tech when NMU was held to a measly 15 shots on goal, the Wildcats have done a good job getting pucks and bodies in front of the net.

But possessing the puck is the key for NMU to breakthrough five-on-five, Kyle said.

“When you hang onto the puck and don’t just hope pass, throw passes to no one, create turnovers, if you hang onto the puck, you can move people in and out of good defensive positions and create opportunities,” Kyle said.

NOTES: NMU began its trip to Fairbanks at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning. NMU flew out of Sawyer International Airport with stops in Detroit and Seattle before finally arriving in Fairbanks. … This week’s trip is the first of three air ventures the Wildcats must make in the WCHA this season. NMU will also fly to Alaska-Anchorage in three months for a series Jan. 24-25 against the Seawolves and to Alabama-Huntsville on March 7-8 to wrap up regular season play. Series in Alaska used to be the only flight NMU made as a member of the CCHA. … The only other team to travel to Huntsville, Anchorage and Fairbanks is Minnesota State, but the Mavericks will play the Nanooks and Seawolves in back-to-back weekends over the semester break and remain in Alaska. … The Wildcats are scheduled to travel to Huntsville, Anchorage and Fairbanks again in 2014-15 as part of the league’s five-year scheduling rotation.