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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Northern Michigan Season Preview

By Susannah Nichols/ Northern Michigan Beat Writer

NORTHERN MICHIGAN WILDCATS

Head Coach: Walt Kyle (9th season)

Home Arena: Berry Events Center (3,800 + 400 standing room)

Last Season: 20-13-8, 13-9-6-3 CCHA. Finished 4th in CCHA standings, runner-up in the tournament. Eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in first round in a 2OT loss to St. Cloud State.

Returning for the ‘Cats:
Goaltenders: Reid Ellingson, Devan Hartigan
Defense: Erik Spady, Andrew Fernandez, Kyle Follmer, Scott Macaulay
Forwards: Jared Brown, Andrew Cherniwchan, Justin Florek, Phil Fox, Tyler Gron, Greger Hanson, Kory Kaunisto, Nicholas Kosinski, Mike Maltese, Brian Nugent, Chad Pietila

Gone from Marquette:
Goaltenders: Brian Stewart
Defense: Erik Gustafsson, TJ Miller, Alan Dorich
Forwards: Ray Kaunisto, Mark Olver, Matt Butcher

New Kids in Town:
Goaltenders: Jared Coreau
Defense: Ryan Kesti, CJ Ludwig,
Forwards: Erik Higby, Jake Johnson, Sam Muchalla, Reed Seckel, Stephan Vigier

Outlook: Most Northern Michigan fans probably weren’t surprised when Mark Olver and Erik Gustafsson, the two most valuable players on last year’s squad, opted to forego their senior season to turn pro. Olver was a Hobey Baker finalist and the leading scorer in the CCHA. Gustafsson was arguably the one of the best offensive defenseman in the country. And even though last season’s successful season was by no means a two-man show, their departure begs the question: who will step up?

The ‘Cats’ first test of the season—an 11-0 drubbing of Nipissing University—suggests an answer: anyone who can. Seven different players scored in the exhibition game, but the season is young, and the stars are yet to be determined.

“We are going to be looking for, and trying to find, who’s going to fill those holes offensively,” reflects head coach Walt Kyle. Certain names come to mind: Greger Hanson, whose “dynamic offense” skills Kyle praises; Andrew Cherniwchan, a tough junior who can light the lamp when it counts; and Justin Florek, who Kyle says “came into his own last year. He started to make himself dangerous. He’s only getting better.”

In addition to the returning Wildcats, some of the most powerful contributions might come from the team’s newest members. Erik Higby, formerly of the NAHL Topeka RoadRunners, is expected to make a splash. Higby set a franchise record for total points in a season (80). His point total, as well assists in a single season (53) led the NAHL. Reed Seckel, coming from the USHL, and Stephan Vigier

Senior Phil Fox, who was injured for much of last season, returns to the ice not just as a possible scorer, but as team captain. “Phil Fox was as easy guy for us to name captain,” said Kyle. “He has been a real good honest soldier in his entire career. Phil is well respected in the room.”

On the blue line, Kyle Follmer spent much of last year playing alongside Gustafsson—and hopefully, that tutelage will pay off this year. Coach Kyle says that Follmer “really grew and developed and became a very good player throughout last year.” Follmer, along with Cherniwchan and Florek, will serve as an assistant captain this season.

But perhaps the biggest skates to fill are graduated goalie Brian Stewart’s: the ‘Cats have a long history of winning despite being outshot by their opponents, and Stewart was incredibly stalwart in net. The natural replacement is junior Reid Ellingson.

Says Kyle: “Reid is certainly a guy who’s paid his dues, has really matured as a kid. I’m really pleased with his development, his mentality… he’s a very capable goaltender. I’m really excited he’s going to get a chance to come in and prove what he can do.” But don’t count out junior Devan Hartigan, as well as Jared Coreau, a 6-5 freshman, both of who will look to make their own marks. Each goalie played a period against Nipissing, and not one of the three allowed a goal.

The Wildcats host face Michigan Tech and Minnesota-Duluth in the Superior Cup this weekend. They’ll face Michigan Tech again next Tuesday night, and then face Miami on the road before their home-opener against Ohio State.

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