WCHA RinkRap: Northern Michigan Wins A Barb-Burner vs Bowling Green

A barn-burner in Bowling Green, the stingiest PK unit in the land, a rookie on fire in the desert, and an avalanche of numbers piling up in Mankato. We’ve got all the latest in this week’s edition of the WCHA RinkRap.

Saturday night’s Northern Michigan-Bowling Green game was an instant classic. It took over 64 minutes and a collective 69 shots on goal before Wildcat senior Daren Craighead buried the overtime dagger through Eric Dop’s five-hole, ending this exquisite drama in sudden death.

Simply getting to overtime required a near miracle for the Cats. With the NCAA’s leading goal scorer Griffin Loughran banished to the Northern Michigan dressing room with a game misconduct suspension, the Cats found a way to notch two extra-attacker goals within 24 seconds, tying up a game that most had conceded to Bowling Green. Grant Loven’s goalmouth tip-in came with 40 seconds left in regulation to set the stage for Craighead’s heroic overtime dash.

“Proud of how hard we continued to play right to the end,” said NMU coach Grant Potulny. 

It was a game that threatened to unravel, as off-ice officials inked up 24 total penalties, including 40 minutes worth in the heart-pounding third period, a stanza that felt like the final round of a prizefight that contained multiple knockdowns to both contestants. 

After Craighead’s fatal OT blow, Northern Michigan celebrated like Nordic invaders, and Bowling Green — ranked No. 11 nationally entering this weekend — was left to pick up the pieces of a season that has taken an unexpected turn for the worse.

“It’s really unfortunate,” said Falcons coach Ty Eigner. “We played well enough to win.” 

Eigner was actually pleased on Saturday with his Falcons’ bounce-back effort following his squad’s disappointing 5-2 loss the night before. The Falcons’ inability to close out the game resulted in a six-point swing in the WCHA standings, as Northern leapfrogged BGSU into third place.

Potulny’s Wildcats have now won three consecutive games against the WCHA’s two nationally ranked members, Minnesota State and Bowling Green, catapulting them into the new year. 

“It is one of the biggest road sweeps we have had,” said third-year coach Potulny, whose club is now armed with the most dangerous asset in sports: confidence.

Killers

Bemidji State has the top penalty-killing unit in the country, snuffing out enemy power plays at an otherworldly 94.8-percent mark, including a perfect two-for-two in their sweep of Ferris State this past weekend. They have given up a mere three PP goals all season, half the total of the nation’s No. 1 team North Dakota. The Beavers’ penalty killers are doing what no college team has ever done: thus far they have scored as many goals while shorthanded as they have allowed. The last player to score a power-play goal against the Beavers was Steven Jandric of Alaska back on December 7. He may become an answer to a trivia question. 

Pietila Does It Again

Michigan Tech freshman Logan Pietila scored another tie-breaking, game-winning goal late in the contest against Arizona State Sunday, his second such goal in six days. The red-hot rookie has now scored four goals in his last three games, leading the Huskies to the GLI championship and a split with then #17 Arizona State. The Huskies' recent surge has vaulted them to 15th in the all-important PairWise rankings.

Number Crunchers

The Nanooks from Fairbanks were a feel-good story this season, having not been swept by any team during the campaign, their run containing impressive wins at Penn State and Michigan Tech. And then the traveled to Mankato. Minnesota State, the national leader with 18 wins, shut down Alaska 4-0 and 3-1 this past weekend. A glance at the box scores reveals the surgical precision with which Minnesota State operates: they held Alaska to 23 shots on goal over the entire weekend, an average of under four shots per period, including what appears to be a misprint: 0 shots allowed in the third period Friday.

Friday’s game kept MSU sports information director Paul Allan busy crunching numbers in three categories: 

  1. It was the sixth shutout this season for sophomore puck-kicker Dryden McKay, equaling the school record for a season, tying him for third on the career list with 10. 
  2. Mavs coach Mike Hastings rang up his 200th career Division I win on Friday, the most in the NCAA over that seven-plus-year span. “I can’t say thanks enough to all the guys doing the heavy lifting,” Hastings said after Friday’s milestone win. 
  3. Senior captain Marc Michaelis had another multiple-point game (2-1-3) Friday, giving him 141 points in his remarkable career; he is now tied for third on MSU’s all-time list. Furthermore, every point clicked off by Michaelis keeps updating the NCAA record for most active points by an individual skater.

If you see Allan around the WCHA rinks this season and offer to shake his hand, shake it gingerly. The man may be suffering from writer’s cramp.


Tim Rappleye is the author of Jack Parker's Wiseguys: The National Champion BU Terriers, the Blizzard of '78, and the Road to the Miracle on Ice. He can be reached on Twitter @TeeRaps.

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