MARQUETTE - The Northern Michigan University hockey team will open Central Collegiate Hockey Association play for a final time at 7:35 p.m. on Friday when it hosts Notre Dame at the Berry Events Center.
Northern played as an independent during its inaugural 1976-77 season before beginning CCHA play the following year.
In 1984, the Wildcats made the move to the WCHA where they won the 1991 NCAA Championship, before returning to the CCHA in 1997.
Center, the Northern Michigan University hockey team celebrates its 1979-80 CCHA regular season championship at Lakeview Arena in Marquette. (NMU photo)
At the conclusion of this season, the CCHA will cease to exist and the Wildcats will return to the WCHA.
On the eve of the 'Cats final CCHA opener, The Mining Journal takes a look back at 10 memorable milestones from NMU's time in the 41-year-old league from 1977-84 and 1997-2012.
10. Welcome to the CCHA
The Wildcats' rookie season in NCAA hockey was promising at 19-13-1 as an independent, and the beginning of the 1977-78 campaign started out well with NMU winning it's first six games all out of conference.
Then came Bowling Green State to Marquette for Northern's first official CCHA game on Nov. 4, 1977, and the Falcons shutout the 'Cats, 5-0, at Lakeview Arena.
NMU didn't have to wait long for its first CCHA win, because 24 hours later, NMU beat BGSU, 7-4.
NMU finished its first CCHA season 19-12-3 overall and 8-10-2 in the league, good for a tie for third. BGSU won the league title.
9. A rivalry is born
It wasn't until the Wildcats fourth season of hockey in 1979-80 that a series with Michigan Tech landed on the schedule, and the Huskies didn't even visit Marquette until the 1980-81 season.
Tech won the first meeting in Houghton, 3-2, on Nov. 23, 1979 before NMU won the second night 6-2.
The Huskies won the first ever meeting between the now heated U.P. rivals in Marquette on Nov. 7, 1980, while NMU's first weekend sweep of the Huskies came Jan. 2-3, 1981 in Marquette, 3-2 and 5-2.
8. Hobey Bozek
Steve Bozek of Kelowna, British Columbia, became the Wildcats' first All-American and first Hobey Baker finalist after scoring 35 goals and 55 assists for 90 points in 44 games as a junior in 1981. He was also a member of the 1981 NCAA All-Tournament Team and made his second appearance on the All-CCHA First Team.
Bozek was drafted in 1980 by the Los Angeles Kings in the third round, No. 52 overall, and he turned pro following the Wildcats run to the 1981 NCAA Championship game. He played 11 seasons in the NHL for the Kings, Calgary Flames, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks from 1981-1992.
Northern's annual plus-minus award is named in Bozek's honor.
7. Tarkki Surprise
Tuomas Tarkki of Finland sat behind Craig Kowalski in goal for almost three seasons until Kowalski pulled his groin 4 minutes and 38 seconds into the Wildcats' 2003-04 regular season finale against Ferris State in Marquette.
Tarkki finished the game - 28 saves in a 2-1 win - and backstopped the Wildcats to a sweep of Alaska in Fairbanks and an upset of Michigan State in the CCHA quarterfinals at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Those games were just a preview of Tarkki's senior year of 2004-05 when he posted statistically the best season ever for an NMU goaltender, with a 2.24 goals against average and .924 save percentage - both records for an NMU goaltender in a season.
Tarkki, who finished 20-8-5 as a senior, was named the CCHA Goaltender of the Year, CCHA Player of the Year, a second-team All-American and finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
6. Goodbye Lakeview, hello Berry
NMU played its final game in Lakeview Arena on March 6, 1999, which was a 5-2 loss to Michigan. NMU finished with a 291-125-33 (.685 winning percentage) record at Lakeview from 1976-99.
NMU opened the Berry Events Center in the fall with the first event being a 20-2 exhibition victory for the Wildcat hockey team over Laurentian on Oct. 1, 1999. The BEC's grand opening took place on Oct. 8, 1999 when NMU topped Tech 9-0. Roger Trudeau scored the BEC's first goal with assists from Jimmy Jackson and Chad Theuer 6:11 into the first period.
5. Goodbye Rick, hello Walt
Head coach Rick Comley would only coach the 'Cats for three seasons at the Berry Events Center before taking over for the legendary Ron Mason at Michigan State in March of 2002. Comley, who left Lake Superior State in 1976 to found the Wildcats' program, finished with a 256-173-37 record at NMU during the CCHA years of 1977-84 and 1997-2002. He won the Spencer Penrose Award in 1980 as the national coach of the year and was named the 1980 and 1981 CCHA Coach of the Year.
Walt Kyle, a former player (1979-81) and assistant (1981-1992) under Comley at NMU, was named Northern's head coach on June 13, 2002. Now in his 11th season at NMU, Kyle has compiled a 196-168-45 record with six 20-win seasons, seven trips to the CCHA Championships at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, a 2010 appearance in the CCHA Championship game and 2010 NCAA tournament.
4. Comley returns to Marquette
The Wildcats didn't have to wait long to see their former coach behind an opposing bench. Four games into the 2002-03 season, Comley returned to Marquette on Oct. 18, 2002 as head coach of the Spartans, and was routed 10-4 in the CCHA opener for both schools that was witnessed by 3,916 fans inside the BEC and countless more viewing on Fox Sports Detroit.
It was Kyle's first CCHA win as a head coach and his first head coaching win in Marquette after tying to Boston University the weekend before.
Marquette native Alan Swanson had a hat trick in the win.
3. Oh How I Hate, Ohio State
If Comley's return to Marquette was the most memorable single game at the Berry Events Center, the most memorable CCHA game at Lakeview Arena is simply known as the "Oh how I hate, Ohio State" game that featured a bench-clearing brawl during the second period on Jan. 30, 1981.
According to Kyle, who was a senior captain in 1981, the brawl started when Jeff Pyle took a blocker to the face. What ensued still stands in the NMU record books: Most penalty minutes in a period by NMU (77); most penalties by an opponent in a game (34); most penalties minutes by an opponent in a game (98); most penalties by an individual opponent in a game (7); most penalty minutes by an individual opponent in a game (22); and most penalty minutes combined in a game (185).
According to the official box score from the game - which NMU won 7-2 - five Wildcats were kicked out, including current assistant coach John Kyle, Walt's younger brother.
2. Wildcats go back-to-back
The 1980-81 season was more than just a scoring parade for Bozek or a good old fashion hockey fight between conference rivals, it was the year NMU won its second ever and second-straight CCHA regular season and playoff titles.
NMU finished 27-14-3 overall and 18-4-0 in the CCHA. The Wildcats defeated Cornell to reach the Frozen Four before losing to Wisconsin in the national semifinals and Michigan Tech in the consolation game to finish fourth.
Bozek and Pyle, the CCHA Player of the Year, each had 35 goals while Bozek led the team in scoring with 90 points. Jeff Poeschl, the CCHA Rookie of the Year, backstopped NMU in goal with a 3.25 goals against average and .895 save percentage.
1. A win away from glory
NMU won its first of two CCHA regular and postseason championships during the 1979-80 season - the school's third in the CCHA and fourth in NCAA Division I college hockey - which included a school-record 15-game win streak and 17-game home win streak. Both marks still stand today. The Wildcats finished 34-6-1 overall and 17-3-0 in league play. Only the 1990-91 national championship squad of the WCHA can boast a better record of 38-5-4.
NMU qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time and topped Minnesota, 4-3, in a quarterfinal/play-in type game in St. Paul, Minn., to reach the Frozen Four in Providence, R.I., where the Wildcats upset No. 1 Cornell, 5-4. NMU lost the national championship to North Dakota, 5-2.
Tom Laidlaw was a member of the NCAA All-Tournament team along with Steve Weeks, who was also the CCHA Player of the Year.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.