Sunday, April 21, 2024

Icers eye on Northern Michigan

November 9, 2000
MSU hockey players congratulate their captain, senior right wing Rustyn Dolyny (19), after scoring against Michigan on Saturday at Yost Ice Arena. The game was victorious for the Spartans, defeating the Wolverines 1-0. —

The exhibition basketball game between MSU and Northern Michigan wasn’t much of a contest, with the Spartans winning 93-40, but this week’s series between the two schools’ hockey teams promises to be more competitive.

The hockey series will feature two squads that are nationally-ranked and in a three-way tie atop the CCHA standings.

No. 4 MSU (5-1-1 overall, 4-1 in the CCHA) will open a four-game homestand, its longest of the season, with a series against No. 12 NMU (5-1-3, 3-1-2) tonight and Friday at Munn Ice Arena.

The teams are tied for first with Michigan with eight points in the CCHA.

The Spartans are coming off a win over then-No. 1 U-M in Ann Arbor last weekend. Senior right winger Rustyn Dolyny scored the only goal of the game and sophomore goaltender Ryan Miller made 31 saves to preserve the 1-0 victory.

Junior right winger Adam Hall said he doesn’t expect the Spartans to let their guard down after the emotional win over their arch rivals.

“It’s still a tight race in the league,” Hall said. “(NMU is) a very skilled, hard-working team, and we have to be ready to match that.”

Northern is undefeated in its past seven games, going 5-0-2, and is undefeated on the road this year at 3-0-2. However, the Wildcats have not beaten MSU at Munn since 1985, a span of six games.

“I think they’re more balanced this year,” said MSU head coach Ron Mason. “They had a couple of go-to guys who were stars in the league last year. Their team is more widespread now.”

If NMU breaks its winless streak at Munn this week, it will be the 500th win in school history. The Wildcats are 499-405-62 in 24 years of college hockey.

NMU head coach Rick Comley was a player and assistant coach under Mason at Lake Superior State. Comley has coached the Wildcats for 25 years.

“He’s an excellent coach and his teams always reflect his tough, hard-nosed personality,” Mason said.

Forward Chris Gobert leads the powerful Wildcat offense with 10 points (five goals and five assists). NMU is second offensively in the CCHA, averaging 4.11 goals per game.

But Gobert and the Wildcats will have to find a way to get the puck past Miller, who is red-hot after winning the CCHA Defensive Player of the Week award two consecutive times.

Last season, Mason split time between Miller and senior goaltender Joe Blackburn, resulting in a 27-11-4 record.

However, any thoughts of a goalie controversy this season have been silenced by Mason deciding to start Miller in all six of MSU’s games. Blackburn has yet to see action.

“Ryan’s on a roll. He’s playing extremely well, so you gotta go with him,” Mason said. “I don’t know what it’ll take for (Blackburn) to play, but he will sometime.”

NMU, on the other hand, has split time in net between two goalies, utilizing steady senior Dan Ragusett and freshman phenom Craig Kowalski.

Kowalski earned CCHA Rookie of the Week last week for his performance in a 2-1 Wildcat win over Bowling Green on Friday. Kowalski made 39 saves in the game and improved his record to 4-0-1 for the season.

Ragusett is NMU’s all-time career leader in saves percentage and goals against average, but is 1-1-2 with a 3.12 GAA this season.

The Spartans have won four straight games behind solid goaltending and an impressive power play since losing their CCHA opener to Nebraska-Omaha on Oct. 20.

The Spartans are only allowing 1.55 goals per game, the best mark in the CCHA. MIller has turned away 190 of 201 shots for a .945 saves percentage this season.

Since the loss to UNO, the Spartan power play unit has gone on a tear. They have scored nine times with a man advantage during the winning streak, and 10 of the team’s last 14 goals have come on the power play.

On the injury front, MSU welcomed back two players last week, and hope a third will rejoin the team this weekend.

Senior center Andrew Bogle returned to the ice against U-M after missing the entire Notre Dame series with a shoulder injury. Sophomore defenseman Brad Fast also played against the Wolverines after sitting out the final two periods of the second game against Notre Dame.

Junior center Joe Goodenow has been out for MSU’s last six games with a left shoulder injury. Mason said the team doesn’t want to rush Goodenow back and risk further injury. He said that if Goodenow doesn’t play this weekend, he should be ready to play against Western Michigan on Nov. 17.

Game time against NMU is 7:05 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

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