For the first time in Northern Michigan University history, both the men’s and women’s club hockey teams will be competing in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) national championships tournament.
The Northern Michigan University women’s club hockey team received the fourth and final spot in the Western Division to make the ACHA Division II national championship tournament.
“#RoadtoPA has been our hashtag since day one. We wanted this all since the beginning,” said senior defenseman Nikki Balkum.
The national bid is on the heels of the team’s undefeated CCWHA regular season championship and a heartbreaking shootout loss to Michigan State in the league championship game.
Eight schools – four from the Western Division, four from the East – will compete for the ACHA title in York, Penn. on March 4-8. California University (Penn.), Delaware, West Chester University (Penn.) and Buffalo (N.Y.) will represent the East while North Dakota State, Rainy River Community College (Minn.) and Michigan State round out the West.
Only two points separated the third, fourth and fifth teams in the West. Michigan State had an automatic bid after winning their conference, but University of Wisconsin-Stout missed the tournament by one point.
The tournament is a pool play, so the teams will be divided into two groups. Each group will have a single round robin where the top two will move on to a four-team winner-take-all tournament.
It was a long and eventful offseason for the Wildcats, as longtime assistant and former NMU student Sean Parker took the reins of the program.
NMU was often a doormat team in the top league as teams like Miami (Ohio) and Robert Morris (Ill.) were perennial national champion threats. But despite the low winning percentage, the team often received votes because of their respectable performances against good teams.
But as the CCWHA adopted a DII league, Northern and Central Michigan were bumped down to compete with the second Michigan State squad, Loyola Chicago, Notre Dame and Lake Superior State. Paired with a strong incoming class, NMU stormed through the league with an 8-0-2 regular season record for the program’s first ever league championship.
Many of the older players on the team experienced their first winning season with the Wildcats this season. They attributed their success for the season to hard work and determination.
“We’ve been reminding ourselves all year…if you want to have it all, you’ve got to give it all,” said senior forward Loren Holfeld. “I’m just filled with shock and excitement right now that we made it.”
To help the women make it to the national championships, a Go Fund Me page has been set up. Click HERE to help.
The men’s team made the 32-team regional tournament, the first step in the national title hunt.
“We are one of 32 teams left who have a chance of winning the national championship,” said NMU men’s head coach Carl Trosien. “This is one of the biggest goals we have starting every season: to move on to ACHA Regionals and Nationals.”
That tournament is a single-elimination format between the 3-10 seeds while the top two are guaranteed in the 16-team national tournament. Instead of a regional champion, the two two-game winners from the single-elimination bracket will move onto nationals as well.
NMU ranked 11 in the regional, but got in as Lindenwood-Belleville is ineligible for postseason play in their first year. The LU-B program has been green lit to be an ACHA DI team and are funded by their athletic department, so their time in DII is to get the program going.
This is the second national appearance in three years for the men. They lost 1-0 in overtime to Michigan State in the opening round of 2013. Last year, they were ranked 11 again but were the first team out of the tournament.
Both teams have expressed their happiness for their counterparts, but NMU and Marquette are the real winners to have such recent success.
“To have both men’s and women’s Club advance to the National post season is a great accomplishment,” Trosien said. “We are proud of them. I think it just adds to the great hockey in Marquette and here at NMU.”