NMU hockey: Wildcats need two wins at Alabama-Huntsville to reach WCHA playoffs

MARQUETTE – After listening to Walt Kyle field a question on whether the Northern Michigan University hockey coach was concerned his team would overlook last-place Alabama-Huntsville, Kyle’s assistant Joe Shawhan piped in with a response of his own.

“Matty, we’re in ninth place right now. We’re not overlooking anybody.”

Shawhan better be right, because if the Wildcats do overlook the Chargers, NMU will join UAH as the two teams left out of the WCHA playoffs.

The Chargers, at 2-33-1 overall and 2-23-1 in the league, had their faint postseason hopes die many months ago, while NMU can continue its season for at least another week with two wins at 8:07 p.m. EST tonight and Saturday at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Ala.

“Going into last weekend, we felt we had to win both of our games,” Kyle said, referring to the home split with Bowling Green. “We weren’t able to do it Saturday. We caught a break with (Minnesota State) sweeping Lake Superior and (UAH) taking one from Bemidji.

“We have to go down there and win one (tonight). If we do that, we have to win another one on Saturday.”

For the Wildcats, the scenario this weekend is simple. If the ‘Cats win twice, they’re guaranteed a spot in the WCHA playoffs. Lose twice, and the season is over.

Anything in between, from a one-point weekend to a three-point weekend, means Northern would need help to move on.

“We got to win,” NMU senior captain Stephan Vigier said. “We got to do what we got to do to win (tonight) first of all, then hopefully look forward to Saturday.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who we’re playing. We got to win. Whether its Huntsville or Michigan, we got to put together our best 60 minutes and get the win.”

If NMU needs aid, it would most likely have to come from Ferris State, which hosts Lake Superior State at 7:07 p.m. EST tonight and Saturday in Big Rapids. The Bulldogs are tied with Minnesota State for first place in the league, and may need all four points to keep pace with the Mavericks in the down-to-the-wire race for the MacNaughton Cup regular season championship.

The Lakers, who are tied for seventh in the league with Bemidji State, lead NMU by just a single point and would win a tie breaking scenario with NMU. That means the Wildcats need to finish with at least one more point than the Lakers to surpass them.

The Beavers, who travel to Bowling Green for games scheduled to start at 7:07 p.m. EST on Friday and Saturday, also lead Northern by just a point, but don’t hold the tiebreaker. Should BSU get swept at BGSU and NMU musters only a tie in Huntsville, the Wildcats get the last playoff spot.

NMU can also catch Bowling Green and Alaska-Anchorage this weekend in the standings with a sweep should BGSU or UAA win one or no points.

Northern can finish as high as fifth in the league standings if everything goes exactly right – meaning LSSU wins two points or less, UAA gets one or no points and BSU takes three of four points at BGSU.

The Wildcats do not have a shot anymore at hosting a WCHA playoff series. Ferris and MSU have clinched first-round home-ice series, while LSSU, Bemdiji, UAA and BGSU can all catch third-place Michigan Tech and Alaska this weekend for the final two spots.

“I wouldn’t say we’re comfortable,” Vigier said. “We’re happy that we can control our own destiny with two wins. We’re just looking for a good week of practice and then go down there and try and get a win (tonight).”

When UAH and NMU first met Nov. 22-23 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette, the Chargers were winless in 10 games, including six in WCHA play.

Northern handed the Chargers two more losses, shutting them out 3-0 and 4-0, with freshman forward Dominik Shine, junior forward Reed Seckel, freshman forward Sami Salminen, senior defenseman C.J. Ludwig, senior defenseman Wade Epp and junior forward Ryan Daugherty scoring the seven goals – Seckel had two on the weekend.

Northern outshot UAH 74-33 in the series, with redshirt freshman Mathias Dahlstrom stopping all 33 shots.

“They work very hard, first of all,” Vigier said. “They beat Bemidji last week in Bemidji, so that’s in the back of your mind. At the end of they day, they’re a hard working hockey team and we have to show up to play well to get a win for sure.”

Since that November series, UAH has picked up two wins and a tie. The Chargers won at Bowling Green in overtime on Dec. 7, tied at home against Alaska-Anchorage on Jan. 17 and a week ago, upset arch-rival Bemdiji State at Bemidji State, 2-1.

It’s a win that helped NMU out in the chase for a playoff spot and also reminded the Wildcats what can happen if you overlook the Chargers.

“If you overlook them, you’re crazy. They just beat Bemidji a week ago,” Kyle said. “That’s probably a good thing for us in two ways. No. 1, it gave us an opportunity to gain points and No. 2, it showed us these guys have turned into a pretty solid hockey team.”