A Cruel Ending for Northern Michigan After a Fantastic Stretch Run, Plus 58 Minutes
by Tim Rappleye/CHN Reporter
Grant Potulny showed up at the Mason Cup post game looking like his favorite dog had just been run over. Twenty minutes earlier, his Northern Michigan Wildcats were two minutes and 19 seconds from carrying him to the NCAA Tournament for the first time as a coach, and first time for the program in 13 years.
Instead, his team collapsed, coughing up three goals in a combined three minutes and 27 seconds, the last in overtime, to end their season, a 3-2 loss.
Sudden death, indeed.
“I just had to be in a room with a team that could not have played better,” said Potulny, gulping air in the midst of his answer. “It’s just really hard for me right now.”
For those who know Potulny, they realize that his own ambition had nothing to do with his despair. He had grown to love this team, a team that had finished the season on a blazing 9-1 tear to steamroll into the Mason Cup championship game. He wanted nothing more than to see this group keep playing, to reach their championship potential.
And then it all went south, mercilessly.
It was no secret how his Wildcats lost.
Northern Michigan, having played a near-perfect game to that point, took two penalties just seconds apart with around five minutes remaining. The Wildcats, behind freshman goalie Ben Halasz killed off the entire advantage. But that left about 2 1/2 minutes remaining, and NMU had to play a man down again, with the Mavericks’ net empty for an extra attacker.
“The last five minutes of a game we’re down a man, or two men,” Potulny said. “Whether it’s a penalty or the goalie is pulled. You’re tired, the guys are tired. The same guys going over and over again. I’m proud of our team’s effort.”
Before the ice tilted so steeply toward his net in the closing minutes, there were two Wildcats draped in hockey glory. One was senior Alex Frye, a transfer from Alaska-Anchorage whose two goals appeared to be more than enough to win the coveted Mason Cup. The other was Halasz, the freshman goalie from Budapest, who was working on his eighth straight period of shutout hockey in the postseason.
Then it all came crashing down, and Potulny was the man who had to face the music.
It was Potulny’s third league championship games in his sixth year as head coach, all…
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