NMU hockey: Wildcats ready to find out in Bemidji whether Siemer, Hanson were worth the wait

MARQUETTE – The Northern Michigan University hockey team won’t be getting senior defenseman and captain C.J. Ludwig back in 2014.

However, reinforcements are on the way, specifically at forward.

Wildcats senior forward Erik Higby is expected to return to the lineup tonight and Saturday for a WCHA series against Bemidji State in sub-zero Bemidji, Minn., after missing seven games with a wrist injury. He had three goals and four assists before landing in a cast.

In addition to Higby, the Wildcats welcome two true freshmen forwards in John Siemer and Gerard Hanson, who were ineligible by NCAA standards the first semester of 2013-14.

“We were willing to live with some holes in our lineup until these guys were eligible and able to get here,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said about Siemer and Hanson.

“People will notice them both right away. They’ll notice some speed, some talent. They’ll be dangerous around the net.”

Siemer, a 5-foot-9, 174-pound, 21-year-old from Baldwin Park, Calif., tallied 12 goals and 36 assists in 79 games last season in the BCHL, including the playoffs. He began the season with the Coquitlam Express before being traded to the Penticton Vees.

He recorded 29 goals and 33 assists in 56 games in 2011-12 with Coquitlam after splitting 2010-11 between the Fresno Monsters of the NAHL and Waterloo Blackhawks of the USHL.

“I just want to try and come in and be an offensive threat,” Siemer said. “The guys are smart and I think I can pick up on their tendencies pretty quick.”

Siemer was ruled eligible in time for the Wildcat’ 2013 finale on Dec. 14 against North Dakota in Grand Forks. He played 10-11 minutes in the 3-1 loss, finishing with two shots on goal, plus what Kyle called three scoring chances.

Siemer wasn’t allowed to be a part of any practices or team meetings prior to suiting up on Dec. 14.

“I was just trying to play simple,” Siemer said. “I was trying to get pucks out, make my hits and do the little things I knew I had to do, like play good in my defensive zone.”

Hanson is a 5-11, 176-pound, 21-year-old wing from Sweden whose older brother, Greger, played four seasons at NMU from 2007-2011, scoring 40 goals and 52 assists in 161 games.

Gerard Hanson only played 15 games a year ago back in Sweden for his hometown Lidingo Vikings – which plays in a Division II league Hanson called, “decent but not optimal” – but scored 11 goals and 14 assists for the program he grew up in.

Prior to that, Hanson spent the 2011-12 season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, recording 12 goals and 18 assists in 58 games, including the postseason.

“It’s been so weird sitting out a year,” Hanson said. “Going into that, I was just going through my mind what was going to happen and how I was going to be on the ice. It has been faster than I thought it would be.

“I just want to win games. Of course, I want to contribute as well. I haven’t set any specific goals for myself. I’m not trying to compare myself to my brother at all. If I can help the team get wins and get a championship, that’s all I care about.”

Kyle said he feels good about Siemer and Hanson joining freshmen forwards Dominik Shine (20 years old), Shane Sooth (21) and Sami Salminen (20), of Finland. They were all originally projected to join the Wildcats two seasons ago, but had to be pushed back due to a variety of NCAA eligibility issues such as a missing required class or wrong degree from a foreign country.

Still, Kyle said the Wildcats’ success in the second half will be tied not to how his freshmen class performs, but how veterans like Higby, senior forward Stephan Vigier, junior forward Reed Seckel and senior defensemen Wade Epp perform.

“We’re going to put their feet right to the fire,” Kyle said about Hanson and Siemer.

“They will impact us over the next 18 games, but I can’t tell you to what degree. The key to us still being successful is Vigier, Seckel, Higby and Epp. Those guys in the room have to be the guys that lead us.

“Those guys need support and we feel these guys can bring them high-level support.”

NOTES: In addition to Higby, the Wildcats got back sophomore backup goaltender Michael Doan, who missed December with a knee injury. Freshman defenseman Barrett Kaib was ruled out early in the week for the Wildcats’ games in Bemidji.