Last-second goal gives Wildcats a weekend sweep

BIG RAPIDS — Northern Michigan University Men’s Ice Hockey (3-1, 2-0 WCHA) found a goal with less than a second remaining in the contests to finish a sweep of Ferris State University (1-3, 0-2 WCHA), 1-0, Saturday evening on the road.

The Wildcats junior goaltender Atte Tolvanen (Vihti, Finland) picked up right where he left off in Friday’s contests successfully defending all 17 shots faced in the opening period. Tolvanen recorded a 40 saves in the Western Colligate Hockey Association opener Friday night.

Neither team was able to score in the first period with NMU recording just nine shots. Coming into the game, the Wildcats had recorded at least one goal in every period through their first three games of the season.

The story of the second period was the power-play as both teams recorded three opportunities to score with the on-ice advantage. Ferris St. converted on two of their four power-play chances on Friday, but finished the weekend going just 2-10. NMU failed to record a power-play goal in five chances for the series.

FSU started the series on the attack, recording double-digit shots in each of the first five periods of the series. That streak came to an end in the third period on Saturday when NMU held the Bulldogs to just six shots. It was also the first time the Wildcats outshot the Bulldogs in a period with a two-shot advantage.

In the final minutes of action, the Wildcats pressed on the offensive end looking to find the first goal of the game. NMU found three shots in the final two minutes with the last of those three proving to be the difference maker. Sophomore forward Darien Craighead (Surrey, British Columbia) found his first goal of the year with 0.5 seconds remaining in regulation to seal the Wildcat win.

A pair of NMU shots were blocked just in front of the FSU goal crease before being deflected back to the blue line. Junior defender James Vermeulen (Stony Plain, Alberta) came up with the puck before sending it to sophomore defender Philip Beaulieu (Duluth, Minnesota) with seconds to play. Beaulieu found Craighead just in front of the blue who sent it in for the score. Both Beaulieu and Vermeulen earned their first assists of the year on the play.

Between the pipes, Tolvanen recorded his first shutout of the season and seventh of his career. The junior saved 35 shots on Saturday, while recoding 75 saves of 77 shots in the two-game series. For the season, Tolvanen has 116 to lead the WCHA, while his 2.04 goals-against-average is good enough for fifth. His 116 saves are currently second best in the NCAA.

Despite not scoring in a contest for the first time this year, senior forward Robbie Payne (Gaylord, Michigan) now leads the nation, outright, in goal with five. Payne found the net twice in each of the games in the season-opening series with Lake Superior State University. Payne scored a goal in Friday evenings game with FSU to propel him to the top spot.

NMU now looks to a series with the University of Wisconsin (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) next weekend to be played at the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Friday’s game will be played at 8 p.m. (EST), while Saturday’s contest is set for 5 p.m. (EST). The two squads split four games a season ago with the first two games at the Resch Center and the second to in Madison, Wisconsin.