(Courtesy of NMU Athletics)
MARQUETTE, Mich. – The Northern Michigan hockey team hosts the Russian Red Stars in an exhibition game at 7:35 p.m. on Friday (Dec. 30) from the Berry Events Center.
It will be the only exhibition game of the season before the Wildcats begin 2012 with a home series against Alaska-Fairbanks on Jan. 6-7.
“It’s a great opportunity for our guys to see a different style of hockey that they see here in North America,” NMU coach Walt Kyle said.
The MHL Red Stars is an all-star team of 25 players from the 51-team Junior Hockey League (MHL), with players aging from 19 to 21. The league is the younger brother of the KHL, the professional hockey league in Russia. Two of its recent players, Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko, are widely projected to be the first two selections in the 2012 NHL draft.
The Red Stars are making their second tour to North America in as many seasons, playing eight games from Dec. 17 through Jan. 5 (six against college teams, two against NAHL teams). The MHL is in its third year of existence and is the first junior hockey league that unites Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia. More than 2,000 players currently play for the league’s 51 teams.
“They’re good players and have some young talent in the European style of hockey,” Kyle added. “It’s going to be a good experience for our players and fans.”
The Red Stars opened the North America tour with three games in North Dakota. A 5-1 loss to the University of North Dakota on Dec. 17 was the first game. The team bounced back with a 5-1 win over the Alexandria Blizzard of the NAHL on Dec. 19. Two days later, the Bismarck Bobcats (NAHL) defeated the Red Stars 2-1.
The Red Stars play back-to-back days out east at the University of Vermont on Dec. 27 and Yale University on Dec. 28. After playing the Wildcats on Dec. 30, the Red Stars finish the tour against the University of Notre Dame on Jan. 3 and Mass-Lowell on Jan. 5.
“We’re going to get guys that don’t play a ton some quality ice time,” said Kyle. “We want to see how they’ll handle situations and hope that they grow and develop so they will be able to contribute in the second half of the season.”
The Wildcats are 9-7-3 overall and 5-6-3 in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. NMU is 4-1 against non-conference opponents this season, outscoring those teams 17-10. The ‘Cats split with Wisconsin, swept St. Cloud and defeated Michigan Tech.
The Wildcats are unbeaten in 10-of-11 games from the Berry Events Center. The home schedule opened with a non-conference sweep of St. Cloud State (Oct. 14-15). NMU swept Miami (Dec. 2-3) for its first conference series sweep at home and defeated non-conference Michigan Tech (Dec. 16). The ‘Cats defeated Michigan on Friday (Oct. 21) and tied on Saturday (Oct. 22) in the first CCHA home series and NMU had two ties with Notre Dame (Nov. 4-5). A Friday (Nov. 18) loss to Michigan State was the first home loss of the season. The ‘Cats defeated the Spartans the next night (Nov. 19).