HOUGHTON, Mich. — Don’t doubt Grant Potulny. His premonition this week was spot on.
Saying in his press availability earlier this week, “Sometimes you get a gut feeling that you’re going to play great, I think we’re gonna play great.”
With goals from twin brothers Rylan and Michael Van Unen bookending a power-play goal by senior Andre Ghantous, Northern Michigan jumped out to a 3-0 lead just past the midway mark of the first period and continued its late-season offensive surge, beating No. 10 Michigan Tech 4-0, to advance to the CCHA’s Mason Cup championship next Saturday.
Freshman goaltender Beni Halasz stopped 44 shots in the win. Senior Blake Pietila, a finalist for the Mike Richter Award, made 21 saves for the Huskies.
“I think it goes probably back to his third or fourth game. He gives you confidence,” Potulny said after the game. “And obviously if I feel it, the players feel it. Moments aren't too big for him. Like I said, he's kind of come into his own now.”
Junior forward Rylan Van Unen got things rolling for the Wildcats just 4:44 into the game.
“It's always nicer when you get the first goal and the other team has to chase the game from behind,” Halasz said. “But on the other hand, there's a feeling this is Tech, this the CCHA semifinal and we got our butt kicked here twice this year, so there's that feeling kicking in every time and especially playing these guys, because of the rivalry and what this means for them and us too. I don't think we ever took our feet off the gas.”
Senior forward Andre Ghantous scored a power-play goal three minutes later, setting up to Pietila's right and jamming the puck between the goaltender's legs to make a 2-0.
Senior defenseman Michael Van Unen scored an unassisted goal at 11:07 of the first period, which ended with an 11-10 Northern Michigan shot advantage.
“I think for the most part, the majority of the group was ready and then once we go down 2-nothing, and then certain individuals struggle they pop a couple breakaways on us,” Michigan Tech head coach Joe Shawhan said. “And then when they have momentum.”
Tech nearly doubled their first-period shots in the second period, putting 19 on Halasz and 15 in the third.
“I don't recall him having to make a big save,” Shawhan said. “Everything seemed to go right at him or miss the net.”
Simon Kjellberg added an empty-net goal with two minutes to play.
Michigan Tech finished 0-for-5 on the power play.
It’s been quite a run for both teams, but Michigan Tech, which received eight votes in the first USCHO poll in the fall, made one of the biggest splashes in the CCHA to challenge defending MacNaughton Cup champion Minnesota State until the final game of the regular season.
Northern Michigan, meanwhile, finished one spot outside that early season poll with 62 votes.
As Michigan Tech ascended, Northern Michigan hydroplaned throughout the season, splitting 10 series during the season. The Wildcats really began to grip the road during a 17-goal series against Ferris State and stormed through Bowling Green, Bemidji State and now Michigan Tech to reach the championship game.
In the past seven games, Northern Michigan has outscored its opponents 38-13 and rides that seven-game win streak into next weekend’s game against Minnesota State, a 7-2 winner later Saturday against Ferris State.
Northern Michigan sits at 27th in the PairWise rankings . Michigan Tech is 10th.
NMU – 3-0-1—4
MTU – 0-0-0—0
Scoring: 1, NMU, Rylan Van Unen (AJ Vanderbeck), 4:44. 2. NMU, Andre Ghantous (Joey Larson, Josh Zinger), 7:45 (pp). 3, NMU, Michael Van Unen, 11:077.
Penalties: First Period: 1, MTU, Logan Pietila (high-sticking) 6:48. 1, NMU, Tanner Vescio (holding) 11:50. 2, MTU, Jed Pietia (tripping) 13:13. 3, MTU, Trevor Russell (interference) 15:40. 2, NMU, bench (too many players) 15:18.
Scoring: No scoring
Penalties: 3, NMU, Reilly Funk (goaltender interference) 4:46. 4, MTU, Chris Lipe (holding) 4:46. 4, NMU, Colby Enns (tripping) 11:38. 5, NMU, Michael Van Unen (hooking) 17:50.
Scoring: 4, NMU, Simon Kjellberg (Ghantous), 18:00 (en.)
Penalties: 5, MTU, Ryan O’Connell (tripping) 4:48.
Goalie saves: NMU (Halasz 10-19-15—44), MTU (Pietila 8-10-3—21)
Power-plays: NMU 1-for-4, MTU 0-for-5