HOUGHTON - Blake Hietala and his hockey bags know the road between Marquette and Houghton.
Saturday, on the western end of that road, Hietala helped make sure the first Western Collegiate Hockey Association weekend between the teams in 16 years would be a split. The sophomore from Houghton scored twice as Michigan Tech took down Northern Michigan 4-1.
"I grew up playing against Marquette, hated them. Grew up watching Tech-Northern, hated Northern. To just get a chance to play in these games in a dream come true and to contribute is just icing on the cake," Hietala said.
Michigan Tech’s Blake Hietala skates behind the net during Saturday’s game against Northern Michigan at John?MacInnes Student Ice Arena. Hietala scored twice in the Huskies’ 4-1 victory. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
Hietala potted both goals within the first eight minutes to keep the energy up inside John MacInnes Student Ice Arena for the Huskies' home opener, which also became the Huskies' first win and conference points of 2013-14.
"I think it was pretty big. It's been a long little stretch here on the road and we were desperate for a victory. We had a great crowd tonight and that was nice to come out to. We had a good start, and we attribute a lot of that to home ice," Hietala said.
A familiar bugaboo thus far in the season, penalties, crept up within the first minute when Mike Neville was penalized for goaltender interference just 24 seconds in.
NMU 0 1 0 - 1
Tech 2 2 0 - 4
First period - 1, Tech, Blake Hietala 1 (Max Vallis), 6:33; 2, Tech, Hietala 2 (David Johnstone, Daniel Holmberg), 7:34 (PP); Penalties - Tech, Mike Neville (goaltender interference), :24; NMU, Mitch Jones (tripping), 7:25; NMU, Barrett Kaib (hooking), 14:09; Tech, Reid Sturos (slashing), 17:32.
Second period - 3, Tech, Alex Petan 2 (Neville, Shane Hanna), :39; 4, NMU, Stephan Vigier 5 (unassisted), 1:17; 5, Tech, David Johnstone 1 (Hanna, Neville), 7:37; Penalties - Tech, Vallis (tripping), 2:58; NMU, Reed Seckel (boarding), 9:00; NMU, Jones (interference), 11:31; NMU, Ryan Daugherty (contact to the head), 14:02; NMU, Daugherty (game misconduct), 14:02.
Third period - No scoring. Penalties - NMU, Sami Salminen (interference), 1:39; Tech, C.J. Eick (high-sticking), 7:21; NMU, Seckel (high-sticking), 14:40; Tech, Dennis Rix (interference), 18:39; NMU, Bench (too many men), 19:28.
Goalies - NMU, Mathias Dahlstrom (33 shots, 29 saves); Tech, Pheonix Copley (15 shots, 14 saves).
However, the Huskies killed the penalty without allowing a shot on goal, then began their work buzzing around NMU goalie Mathias Dahlstrom.
Hietala and linemate Max Vallis helped establish the rush, and after the puck was poked off Hietala's stick, Vallis got it back to him on the doorstep for the game's first goal at 6:33.
NMU's Mitch Jones went off for a trip at 7:25, and the Huskies quickly turned it into a 2-0 lead. Hietala came in from the left circle, fanned on his first attempt, but maintained his momentum, dangled the puck around a Wildcat defenseman and shot over Dahlstrom's glove.
The goals came 61 seconds apart, upping Hietala's career Husky goal total from three to five.
NMU coach Walt Kyle said as much credit as his team deserved in winning the series opener 2-0 Friday in Marquette, Tech deserved for the way it started its home opener Saturday.
"I could have told you in August they were going to do that. I would hope they would do that. They did a great job with it. We made some mistakes, we made some breakdowns, and they capitalized. We kind of got behind the eight-ball," he said.
It didn't get much better for the Wildcats. NMU had only three shots in the opening period and went behind 3-0 less than a minute into the second frame when Neville's centering pass left Alex Petan with a tap-in for his second goal of the year.
A Stephan Vigier snipe from the right circle off the post and in ruined Tech goaltender Pheonix Copley's chance for a shutout, but otherwise, the sophomore had light work to complete his first two-start weekend of the season.
The sophomore stopped 14 of 15 shots, the fewest put on the Husky goal over 60 minutes since NMU put just 11 shots on Tech's goal in the 2008-09 season opener.
"They've been doing a great job blocking shots all season and tonight, they did it again. They were keeping it to the outside. Northern's a team that likes to dump it in, so there wasn't too many shots off rushes. Most of the shots they like to get from the point, but the boys did a good job blocking shots tonight," Copley said.
David Johnstone added his first score of the season, cashing in from behind the goal line by shooting his own rebound off Dahlstrom and in seven minutes into the second period.
It could've been more lopsided, as NMU's Ryan Daugherty took a major penalty and game misconduct for contact to the head late in the second, but the Wildcats killed off the five minutes. After a relatively uneventful third period, the Huskies upped the record to 1-4-1 (1-1-0 WCHA).
"I think the biggest thing tonight - they put the puck into our D and we failed to move it out. Their forechecking was very good. They scored two goals where we had defensemen pinch up in the neutral zone and give them opportunities behind them," Kyle said.
The teams will meet again in February, with the Wildcats returning to Houghton for Tech's last home game of the regular season Feb. 21.
Both teams hit the road next weekend - the Wildcats (2-4-0, 1-1-0) are at Alaska (Fairbanks), while the Huskies don the black road sweaters once again for a pair of non-league games at the University of Michigan Friday and Saturday.