It is four years later, and it appears that the gamble has paid off (for the most part). Despite an unsuccessful 06-07 regular season, the 'Cats have gone 65-43-13 in the previous three campaigns. They have failed to reach the NCAA Tourney, but have, each year, advanced in the CCHA Tournament and arrived at the Joe Louis Arena. This is a feat that only two other CCHA clubs have accomplished in that time.*
Without further ado, here is the Wildcat senior class of 06-07.
*This claim comes from Pat Bateman. I haven't taken the time to validate it, but I'll trust him this time.
Pat Bateman, F (34-5-7-12, 144-34-50-84)
As for his future?
"He's going to certainly have some career in hockey post-college," NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. "He will be able to play at some level professionally and he has the skills to be a big-time player, it's just whether it can all come together for him. He is the kind of soldier that we want as a part of the program."
Bates leaves the impression, though, that he hasn't looked too closely at his future just yet.
“Right now my options are open," he said. "I’d like to play pro hockey for a bit and if that doesn’t work out like expected or if I don’t see myself progressing to the next level, I have a finance degree and I can always go back to school, if need be, or start in my field.”
Zaniboni is in only his third season at NMU, but due to an NCAA eligibility rule, he is in his final season as a Wildcat. He has started in net for the past two seasons. Kyle credits Zaniboni with knuckling down, both on and off the ice, and with always doing what is asked of him.
The netminder believes that NMU hockey is community-wide and that he and his teammates are role models for the younger generation.
“As a player coming in here, Walt stresses that this is one big family, no matter what," Zaniboni said. "I don’t really want to look at it as a departure. Hopefully, I’ll be back here involved in the program somehow. We lead by example, on and off the ice. I play a lot of minutes here. Off the ice I try to live my life right and be someone for people to look up to, especially little kids in the community. I think that’s a big part of this program.”
Zaniboni will pursue hockey beyond NMU, but is glad that he will always have a degree to fall back on.
Olver is a 2004 NHL draft pick of the New York Rangers. Selected 36th overall, he was the highest drafted NMU player in history.
Olver led the 'Cats in scoring for each of his first three seasons and has over 100 points in his career. The most limiting aspect of Olver's game, said Kyle, was the fact that NMU never had a great complement for him.
"His true strength is as a playmaking center and although he has led the team in scoring for his first three years, one of the things that has hindered him is that we have never had a high-end offensive winger to play with him," Kyle said. "If we ever would have had that, I think the numbers would have been even better. Darin is a big talent and another guy that will, in some fashion, go on to play professional hockey."
Kyle went on to say that Olver was one player that he trusted completely.
The son of assistant NMU coach John Olver, Darin declined to comment on his future plans.
"I don't know what my plans are," he said. "I wish I knew what they were."
Selden is a native of Negaunee and came to NMU from the USNTDP U-squads.
Kyle said that he is always happy to get a good local player and that Bobby was certainly one of those guys, adding that Bobby was playing through injury for most of his time on the ice and that he constatnly peaked at the right time.
"He always, every year, saved his best hockey for the last part of the year and has played his very best in the playoffs," Kyle said. "He is a guy that is real strong, a power defenseman, a real imposing checker. He will play professionally at some level and might even be more effective when he can play more physical."
Hatinger is also a Negaunee native and has been with the Wildcats for four years. He has played just one full game all season, a 5-4 overtime victory over the USNTDP U-18 team in December. Hatinger stopped 22 of 26 shots in the overtime win.
Hatinger is a hockey official and works the occassional local game. He will likely continue down the reffing path.
"Josh is a guy that is, again, one of those local guys that we're blessed to have," Kyle said. "To me, those are the most rewarding to coach. He is a referee and I'm sure you'll see him reffing in this league and maybe further into professional hockey."
Matt Maunu is having one of the best years of his life, both professionally and personally. After getting married in the off-season, Maunu has now had his statistical best season as a Wildcat.
Even though he had to step into Wildcat skates sooner than expected, he has performed admirably, Kyle said.
"Initially we recruited Matt a year ahead," Kyle said. "We lost Juha Allen when he signed after his freshman year so we had to accelerate Matt and bring him in a year early. He has lived up to expectations and, in fact, has exceeded them."
Kyle also commented on the level of commitment and responsibility that Maunu has shown in his personal life.
The soft-spoken Tarkir came to NMU from Fresno, California four years ago. He played youth and junior hockey with Darin Olver and was brought to Kyle's attention by John Olver, Darin's father.
He is a draft pick of the New Jersey Devils and is also playing the best hockey of his career this season.
"Zach is a guy that was recruited along with Darin Olver," Kyle said. "Really, I became aware of Zach through Darin's father prior to him working here. Zach is a guy with exceptional talent. I think he has improved each year since being here...He does everything that he is told and he is another one that will certainly get a chance to play the game professionally."
Collins is a native of Gilbert, Arizona and has battled through injuries throughout his entire career, while still managing to play in 129 games.
Collins has played injured for nearly all of 06-07.
"Dusty is a big power forwards that has battled injuries the last couple of years," Kyle said. "People don't know, but he has played this entire season with his hand, basically, in a cast and with screws in his wrist from an injury that he had last year."
Kyle went on to say that Collins is a hard-hitting forward whose impact goes beyond the score sheet and that he is, also, an elite student.
If you have a conversation with Walt Kyle, it is easy to see how much he appreciates both:
1) a good local player
2) a hard-hitting powerful forward
Kyle got both when Marquette native Rob Lehtinen became a Wildcat.
"Rob Lehtinen is an elite defensive player," he said. "He may be the best defensive forward in college hockey, that's how good he is. He's an elite penalty killer, he plays the game defensively and he has an incredible work ethic. I think he is a good skater and he is gritty. If you went through that class and asked who the guys were that I would take on my hockey team, any day, any team, Rob Lehtinen is one of those guys."
Kyle said that Lehtinen could also play professional hockey, but that he is a role player and that he would have to meet with the right coaching staff. Kyle added that Lehtinen also comes on in the playoffs every year.
With the departure of the leaders, new Wildcats will have to emerge next season, plugging holes and taking charge. Hopefully that will be enough.
"In this class and in last year's class, we lost a lot of quality impact guys," Kyle said. "Darin has led our team in scoring for the past three years, Rob Lehtinen has played every critical defensive minute for the last three years, Bill is our starting goaltender and Bateman is as steady a player as there is. Those are certainly some key guys to replace."