The Northern Michigan Wildcats have had a turbulent season spent battling through roster turnover, and they’ll look to gain momentum as the WCHA Tournament nears.
Ahead of the season, second-year head coach Grant Potulny expressed a need for a hot start out of the gate. But the roster changes saw the team open the season 3-7. Now with just six games remaining ahead of the conference tournament, the Wildcats have some ground to make up.
A month ago, defenseman Philip Beaulieu helped carry the team to six consecutive wins as they looked to repeat their impressive second half of 2017-18. Their progress was halted as a potent Minnesota State team handed them their first sweep since Nov. 9-10.
Potulny’s young team persisted and has regrouped since, going 2-1-1 over the past four and averaging 3.25 goals per game.
At 15-13-1 overall, the Wildcats’ record doesn’t appear overly impressive, but a 14-7-1 showing has them locked in a tie with Bowling Green for second place in the WCHA at 43 points. Aforementioned No. 5-ranked Minnesota State holds a 16-point lead int he standings and remains the clear favorite for the WCHA Tournament crown.
But after falling to Michigan Tech in the WCHA championship game last season, the Wildcats shouldn’t be taken lightly. MTU’s automatic bid earned it a spot alongside Minnesota State last season as a pair of WCHA teams in the NCAA Tournament. With MSU holding a near-guaranteed spot again, a conference tournament upset could see the WCHA earn three potential spots this spring.
No.16-ranked Bowling Green sits 15th in the PairWise Rankings, which cuts the field of contention to 16 programs come NCAA Tournament time. NMU sits 10 spots back at No. 25. A WCHA Tournament victory would be its easiest path to an NCAA bid, but a late-season surge would certainly support the team’s bid.
The Wildcats will return to the conference tournament with experience and hunger, supported by a reliable offense and a game-stealing goaltender in Atte Tolvanen. Beaulieu and seniors Troy Loggins and Adam Rockwood carry the offensive load.
But Tolvanen has been a workhorse for the Wildcats, having gone 15-13-1 this season with a .913 SV%, 2.33 GAA and four shutouts.
The quartet will be heavily relied on during the team’s final three series, each against teams that they’ve split with this season for a combined 3-3 record. They’ll need to find a way to come out on top consistently in those six games.
Don’t miss any of the Wildcats’ late-season push when you can catch it all live, right here on FloHockey, along with the rest of the WCHA, Big Ten Conference and, come playoffs, Hockey East.
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