MARQUETTE - Heading into the 2012-13 season, Northern Michigan University head coach Walt Kyle hoped his veteran defensive corps could spark an offense attack that lacked proven goal scorers.
Now he's asking his defenseman to take a step back after the No. 20-ranked Wildcats were swept by Notre Dame in Marquette to open CCHA play last weekend.
With the No. 8 Michigan visiting Marquette for 7:35 p.m. games on Friday and Saturday at the Berry Events Center, the NMU defensemen will need to stand tall at the blue line in order to combat a Wolverine offense that's averaging 4.8 goals per game in its three wins and two losses.
Northern Michigan University forward Jake Johnson (16) battles the Michigan forward Alex Guptill for the puck on Oct. 22, 2011, of last season at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. Guptill is second on the Wolverines in scoring heading into this weekend’s series against NMU in Marquette. (Journal file photo by Matt Keiser)
"We play fairly good defensively, then we have a big breakdown," Kyle said. "I think one thing we need to do is be much more patient. You don't force offense. Offensive opportunities present themselves and you need to take advantage of those."
The Wolverines (3-2-0 overall, 1-1-0 in CCHA), who split with Miami in Ann Arbor to open CCHA play last week, have scored no less than three goals in a game this season.
Michigan captain A.J. Treais leads Michigan in scoring with five goals and two assists while Alex Guptill has four goals and two assists.
"Guptill is an opportunist, but he finds ways to score goals," Michigan coach Red Berenson said in an interview with Inside Michigan Hockey on Wednesday at mgoblue.com.
"He just has a knack around the net and so I think some guys are natural goal scorers and he seems to be one of those guys. He can score by shooting, tip ins, rebounds, loose pucks. He anticipates well. He's not afraid to go to those ugly areas in front of the net and take hitting and take a lot of abuse. He'll pay the price to score."
While not potent, the Wildcats have been consistent offensively, scoring two goals - no more, no less - every night except for the 4-2 win over Wisconsin in Green Bay on Oct. 13.
Though one of those four Saturday-night goals was an empty netter.
"We better make sure we are good defensively, or we better pick it up offensively," Kyle said. "I think we are capable of either."
None of the Wildcats' 14 goals have come from the defensemen, though seniors Kyle Follmer and Scott Macaulay each have three assists and junior C.J. Ludwig has a pair of assists.
Kyle has credited the defensemen with giving up goals and hanging junior goaltender Jared Coreau - who Kyle called average, but not the problem against the Irish - out to dry to get beat one-on-one following turnovers that have come from end line to end line.
Those turnovers resulted from unnecessary risks, Kyle said.
"You don't need to jump in when you don't need to jump in or make high-risk passes you shouldn't make," Kyle said. "We've had some of those situations where we need to do a better job of that."
Kyle has the luxury of holding back his defensemen offensively because of the boost by his freshman class.
Six of the 'Cats total goals this season have come from rookies with forward Cohen Adair not only leading the freshman, but sharing the team-high of three goals with sophomore forward Ryan Daugherty.
Forward Darren Nowick has two scores and Ryan Aynsley has the sixth goal, plus an assist to round out the rookie scorers.
Senior Matt Thurber is leading the Wildcats in scoring with a goal and five assists for six points, followed by sophomore Reed Seckel (two goals, two assists) and junior Stephan Vigier (one goal, three assists) with four points each.
"I think some of those guys have been really good," Kyle said. "Vigier has been very good, (Erik) Higby has been very good, Seckel has been very good, Daugherty has been very good. Thurber has been solid for us."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.