Northern Michigan clinches home ice with sweep over Bowling Green

The Wildcats will host the Bemidji State Beavers for the opening round of the Mason Cup Playoffs
Published: Feb. 25, 2023 at 10:32 PM EST
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - The Northern Michigan University hockey team took care of business in Ohio, completing the sweep over the Falcons with another comeback 4-2 win with three straight goals, securing home ice for the first round of the CCHA playoffs. The Wildcats improve to 18-16-0 overall and 14-12-0 in CCHA play to secure the fourth seed with 39 points, and the Falcons fall to 15-17-2 overall and 12-12-2 in CCHA play and remained in third with 41 points.

Both Andre Ghantous and David Keefer scored twice, giving Ghantous his team-leading 33 points, and Keefer his team-leading 14 goals. Ghantous is currently on a four-game point streak, recording eight points in that frame (5G, 3A). Beni Halasz made 24 saves on 26 shots for a .923 SV%. The Wildcats outshot the Falcons 33-26, we’re a perfect 5 for 5 on the penalty kill, won 37 faceoffs to the Falcon’s 28, and blocked 15 shots. This was the first time this year that the ‘Cats won when trailing after two periods, improving to 1-12-0 when trailing after two.

The Wildcats started the game with all the momentum and generated three really good opportunities from Collela, Eddy, and Funk, all of which were turned aside by the Falcons. The ‘Cats clearly had the edge early in the game. Moments later, Austen Swankler streaked down the right wing and Beni Halasz had to make a sharp stick save early. Andre Ghantous fed a perfect pass to Artem Shlaine who beat Christian Stoever but failed to beat the pipe and the game remained scoreless.

The Falcons worked the puck from low to high and Ethan Scardina opened the scoring after he tipped a shot from the point that found its way to the back of the net through traffic. Joey Larson was left wide open in front of the net and fired a spin-around shot, but Stoever came out to cut down the angle and the puck hit the end wall. The period ended with the ‘Cats down one, had the edge in shots 11-9, went 0-2 on the PP, and killed their only penalty. Faceoffs were an even 12 a piece, and NMU blocked five shots. The Wildcats had about a minute of powerplay time to start the period but were unsuccessful, followed immediately by a Falcon’s powerplay opportunity that the Wildcats dismissed. The Wildcats earned a powerplay opportunity once again and they tested Stoever multiple times, but he stood tall to turn aside multiple dangerous chances. Neither team seemed to be able to stay out of the box in the middle frame as the ‘Cats were whistled for another penalty, but Beni Halasz made six saves and the Wildcats successfully killed another penalty.

The Wildcats were gift-wrapped a turnover in the Falcons zone and got a short 3-on-2 opportunity. Alex Frye missed a one-timer but it landed on David Keefer’s stick but couldn’t pull the trigger on a yawning cage. Andre Ghantous carried the puck end to end, used the defender as a screen, and fired a deceptive wrist shot over the blocker hand of Christian Stoever to tie the game at one apiece. Connor Eddy picked up the only assist. Fifteen seconds later, Nathan Burke let a puck fly that deflected off a Wildcat stick mere feet in front of the net and beat Beni Halasz. Jett Jungels had an open net to look at moments later, but the bouncing puck hopped over his stick. The Falcons developed a tic-tac-toe passing play to a wide-open man in the slot, and Beni Halasz had to make a spectacular save to keep the ‘Cats deficit to one in the final minute of the second period. The ‘Cats skated to the locker room down a goal with the second-period shots relatively even at 10-11, had a slight edge in faceoff wins with 13 to 10, and the Wildcats killed all three of their penalties.

The third period started with Beni Halasz having to make a point-blank stop on Austen Swankler who was all alone in between the hash marks. This sprung the ‘Cats the other way, as Alex Frye slid a perfect feed to David Keefer who shoveled the puck past Stoever for his 13th goal of the season to tie the game a two. Halfway through the final frame the teams skated four on four and slid right through both defenders before corralling the puck on his forehand and flipping the puck over the glove hand of Stoever. Michael Colella and Simon Kjellberg picked up assists on the goal. The Wildcats then shut down the Falcons the rest of the way, and the Falcons pulled the goalie with a minute left in an effort to tie the game.

The Falcons rang the pipe with seconds left, then Andre Ghantous turned and fired the puck the length of the ice to seal the deal and earn home ice for the opening round of the CCHA playoffs. The Wildcats will host the Bemidji State Beavers on home ice for the opening round of the Mason Cup Playoffs. Game one is slated for Friday, March 4th.