MARQUETTE – The puck drops for the first time for the Northern Michigan hockey team this weekend, and second year head coach Grant Potulny thinks the potential for this season is greater than last year.
The Wildcats know how exciting last season was. Reaching the conference championship for the first time in eight seasons. Reaching 25 wins for the first time since the 2001-2002 campaign. But the Wildcats also know how last season ended – losing to Michigan Tech at the Berry Events Center in the WCHA Championship game, and just missing the NCAA tournament.
“You’re proud of where the team got to, but there is a pit in your stomach, and it’s real,” said Head Coach Grant Potulny. “You can do one of two things. You can sit and think about the what ifs, or you can have it motivate you and drive you. I know it’s motivated me, I believe the players feel the same way, a little bit of a sour taste in your mouth. Looking forward to getting back and having another crack at it.”
Northern Michigan’s first test of the 2018-2019 season is Michigan State. The Spartans, just like the Wildcats, have a strong first line, and NMU’s challenge heading into the first road series of the season will be trying to break down the Spartans structure.
“I think sometimes you think of Big Ten schools and maybe you think it’s run and gun and high risk hockey,” said Potulny. “Michigan State is hard nosed, they’re very responsible, they don’t give you anything up. They’re not going to beat themselves. So if our structure is not where it needs to be, we could be in trouble.”
But if the Wildcats do find themselves in a tight spot, they have a reliable guy between the posts. For the third year in a row senior goaltender, Atte Tolvanen has been named to the Mike Richter Award watch list – which honors the best goaltender in NCAA Division One hockey.
“The challenge for Atte is just going to be managing his energy because he’s probably going to play every single game,” said Potulny. “Atte is a guy who always wants to work out, wants to push. The one thing about him is in the biggest games he plays the best. When you talk about guys who are good players, they sometimes play good. Guys that can be great, they elevate those games, and he’s got a history of elevating.”
Atte and the Wildcats will look to elevate their game, this Friday and Saturday evening in East Lansing. NMU’s first home series is against Bemidji State, beginning on October 26th.