MARQUETTE - The Northern Michigan University hockey team hoped to be home this weekend for the first round of the league playoffs, but a loss to Lake Superior State in the final CCHA game ever at the Berry Events Center ended those dreams.
Instead, the No. 10 Wildcats hit the road to face No. 7 Michigan on Friday, Saturday and if necessary on Sunday in a best-of-three series at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor.
For Northern's senior class, which played its final game in front of the Marquette crowd Saturday, Yost is by no means a horrible consolation prize.
"I'm excited. I like playing Michigan," NMU senior defenseman and captain Scott Macaulay said. "I love playing at the Yost. It's one of the greatest atmospheres in college hockey. They have a good team. They have a ton of skill. They are well coached. It's going to be a great test for us."
The Wildcats finished where they started the weekend - 10th or second to last in the CCHA - after defeating LSSU 3-1 on Friday and losing 3-0 on Saturday. Had the Wildcats won Saturday instead of lost, they would have hosted a CCHA playoff series for the sixth consecutive season and for the third-straight year in the first round against Bowling Green State.
"Obviously we'd like to be at home if you can control that, but I think the attitude we have now is what's done is done," NMU senior forward Brian Nugent said. "There is no sense in looking what could have been. The reality is we're going down to Michigan next weekend for the first round and that's what we have to focus on."
Northern Michigan University senior Matt Thurber brings the puck across center ice with Michigan's Mac Bennett in pursuit on Nov. 3 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. The Wolverines host the Wildcats in a CCHA first-round best-of-three series Friday through Sunday at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor.
The last time NMU and Michigan met in the playoffs was the 2010 CCHA Championship game, won 2-1 by the Wolverines at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
The only CCHA playoff series between the Wildcats and Wolverines was the last time NMU didn't host any postseason hockey in Marquette, which was the 2006-07 season. The then No. 7 'Cats upset No. 10 Ohio State in three games in Columbus before being swept by No. 2 Michigan at Yost in the second round.
NMU and Michigan have played a total of seven playoff games against each other dating back to the first in 1999 - a CCHA Championship game - with all but the two-game 2006-07 series taking place in Detroit.
Michigan has won all seven by a combined score of 33-13.
"I think it's going to be a good atmosphere," Nugent said. "That's exciting for us too. Just because its their building, doesn't mean they're the only team that can feed off the atmosphere. Hopefully we can get excited by the fans too."
Built in 1923 and renovated as recently as September of 2012, Yost Ice Arena holds 6,637 fans. This weekend will be the third series ever for NMU's Class of 2013 at Michigan dating back to their freshmen season of 2009-10, with the exception of senior forward Matt Thurber, who transferred to NMU from Wisconsin in 2011. This will be his second series ever in Ann Arbor as either a Wildcat or Badger.
"It's always exciting to go play at the Yost," Thurber said. "It's a very exciting building to play in. They are a tough team, a big rival as another Michigan team.
"Going there is going to be fun, it's going to be tough. It's always tough to win in that building. Their crowd really gets into it. They have a great student section."
The Wildcats' seniors split their first series at Yost as freshmen, 3-1 and 4-5, but were swept last season 4-1 and 3-2 in overtime.
In November of this season in Marquette, the most recent series between the two teams, Michigan's A.J. Treais scored with six-tenths of a second left on the clock to tie NMU on Friday with the Wolverines eventually winning in a shootout. NMU came back to win Saturday 4-3 despite giving up a pair of third-period goals.
"They are a really high-skilled team," Macaulay said. "We expect them to be a lot better team now than they were in November. They are typically like that. They are typically a younger team that learns throughout the season and hits their peak throughout the playoffs.
"We're expecting to go into a tough atmosphere against a tough opponent. We're definitely going to have to play our game and worry about ourselves first."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens.