The barn in Marquette will be known as "The Black Hole" until the 'Nooks can sweep the Wildcats, and this weekend presents a very good chance for that to happen. Dallas Ferguson in his post as head coach has faced Walt Kyle and the NMU Wildcats 13 times since 2008. The Nanooks are 0-7-6 in that time period. The Nanooks have won 4 of the shootouts, but nearly every game was close. Aside from one game, each of the Wildcats' win was by one or two goals. The only game that wasn't close was last season when the Nanooks surrendered 7 back in Marquette in a 7-3 loss.
But this is a new season, a new roster, and a new beginning. The 'Nooks are off to a great start, but not so much for NMU. The Wildcats are 1-5-2-0 in CCHA play this season, good for 5 points and last place in the conference. To add more turmoil, the Wildcats will miss Erik Higby on Friday's game serving a mandatory one game suspension due to the game disqualification he received for a contact to the head penalty against Ohio State. But, that's just the start...
Junior forward and the team's leading scorer Matt Thurber was ejected from Friday's game for contact to the head, but while he wasn't disqualified, coach Kyle pulled Thurber out faster than a Lamborghini peeling out at a traffic light. Citing a violation of team rules, Kyle said to the press "[Thurber is] out until I say he's back in." Wow... The curious side of me wants to know what exactly happened, but the other sympathetic side of me understands what its like to not have things going your way. Five of NMU's top nine offensive players will be out for this series, and one other player (Higby) will miss Friday.
You can tell their frustrations seem to be mounting as well, Northern has 176 penalty minutes so far this season, or 14.7 minutes per game. Now I know the Nanooks have their fair share too, but the part that hurts the Wildcats is that they're 57th in the country in the penalty kill at 74.5%, averaging out to about two power play goals allowed per game. From an overall defensive perspective, NMU averages 3.08 goals allowed per game total, 2nd worst in the CCHA. This series could be a good chance for the Nanooks 15.5% power play, which has started to click recently, to really find their stride and burying the puck.
Now as far as the actual game is concerned, the Nanooks should have the edge in zone play. Watching tape from the NMU/Ohio State series, the Wildcats have suffered from a poor passing game in the offensive zone. I don't know if its just a lack of vision, or good defensive reads by the Buckeyes. Probably a combination of both, but the Nanooks defense as solid as it is, I don't have too many worries about these guys wreaking havoc offensively, especially with the aforementioned lineup issues.
Where NMU excels is the transition game. Walt Kyle's teams over the years have always been good at controlling the neutral zone, and that's still true with this year's team. They will take advantage of mistakes and turnovers and start it back the other way. A number of their goals this season have come on odd-man rushes created on the backcheck, so making smart decisions with the puck, and clean passing in transition are keys to watch for.
Despite the history between these two teams especially in The Black Hole, the Nanooks are the better team. And if the 'Nooks play their game and keep their offense going, good things are going to happen.