By Susannah Nichols/ Northern Michigan Beat Writer
The Northern Michigan Wildcats started 2010 off with a bang by winning the Dodge Holiday Classic in Minneapolis. The offensive energy and steadfast play by goalie Brian Stewart paid off as the team blanked Clarkson, 4-0, and then beat Minnesota, 4-2, to take the title.
Clarkson managed only four shots on net in the first period of Saturday's game, leaving plenty of room for Northern to jump out to a 2-0 lead. Phil Fox scored first, off assists by Mark Olver and Justin Florek. Near the end of the period, Olver banged in his own rebound. Florek was also credited with an assist on Olver's goal.
Clarkson's offense heated up in the second period, but Stewart was consistent in net. Clarkson also had the advantage on special teams, having four power plays to the 'Cats' one, but Northern made their chance count. Gregor Hanson and Erik Gustafsson set up Jared Brown for a power-play goal at 5:35 of the second. Less than a minute later, Chad Pietila lit the lamp for his second goal of the year. Tyler Gron and Mike Maltese assisted.
Stewart was perfect in goal with 29 saves.
Sunday's final started roughly for the 'Cats as Minnesota outshot them, 18-7, and went up 1-0 going into the first intermission.
The Wildcats found their legs in the second period. Although Minnesota still dominated in shots on goal, Northern took the lead. Olver and Gustafsson set up Hanson for a power-play goal, and then Hanson and Matt Butcher asssisted on Ray Kaunisto's goal. Minnesota scored late in the period, but Kauinsto notched his second goal in the final seconds to give Northern the lead heading into the third period.
Minnesota again outshot Northern in the third period, but Stewart denied all of their efforts and allowed Northern to maintain their lead. At 16:16 of the third, TJ Miller widened that lead to 4-2 with some help from Olver and Florek.
Stewart finished with 48 saves for NMU, now 9-8-4 overall.
The Wildcats' next test is against UP-rival Michigan Tech on Tuesday, January 12. The puck drops in Houghton at 7:30 p.m.