Team of the Week: Northern Michigan
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Nick Sirota can't really remember the last time he had a hat trick.
For all he knows, it could've been the three touchdowns he scored as an All-State running back at Beaver Dam (Wis.) High School.
But his natural hat trick in Friday's 3-1 win over Michigan State, scoring all of his team's goals, was pivotal in Northern Michigan's weekend sweep of the defending national champs, and in keeping the Wildcats in the thick of things in the CCHA.
And it helped earn Northern Michigan (12-15-3, 9-11-2 CCHA) the CHN Team of the Week honors.
"I couldn't even tell you, honest to god," said the junior Sirota about his last hat trick. "It could've been juniors, it could've been a couple years before. It's one of those things where you're not thinking about scoring or the last goal you had, you're just playing fundamental hockey and the puck finds your stick and goes in the back of the net."
That kind of hockey has been coming back to Sirota, after a rough middle part of the season. He started out the season strong, but tailed off just after Christmas, then hurt his groin. He only recently felt 100 percent again, and was a key part of what happened the weekend before last, when the Wildcats went into Yost Arena and tied Michigan in two straight games.
"The week before Michigan, we had a really good attitude on the ice," Sirota said. "It seems like all week, everyone was excited about the weekend and going to play Michigan, and the young guys hadn't played there before. ... Tying them twice gave us some really good confidence that we could hang with the tough times.
"Everyone is playing as a team at this point. It's all about winning games and trying to get home ice in the playoffs. Once you carry momentum like this, we want to carry it to the end of the season."
The surge has gotten NMU into a current seventh-place tie with Ferris State. The 5-8 spots in the league will get home ice for the playoffs in the first round. Alaska-Fairbanks is just one point back, in ninth.
On a team with eight upperclassmen, though only a junior, Sirota is the oldest player on the team. After high school, he gave up football despite the potential to walk on at Wisconsin, and went to Texas to play junior hockey. After getting drafted to play in the USHL, the opportunity never came to fruition. So he followed his junior coach to Sweden, and played in the Swedish Elite Junior League for one season.
"I would've had to go back to my old team, and I didn't want to," Sirota said. "I wanted to improve myself and I felt I could become a pretty good player.
"Sweden was definitely an experience, I can tell you that. ... I (figured it would help) me in the long run, because I (was) improving myself. But I didn't know how many colleges would be looking at you. I was a good player, but there were things in my game I needed to improve, and I knew that. In Sweden, I was practicing twice a day, and it was like I was training for college. I did get set back a year, and that was the downfall."
The downfall wasn't too bad, however, because then-NMU assistant Dave Shyiak spotted Sirota at a tournament before he left for Sweden, and said to keep in touch.
And in Sweden, he harnessed his bulldog football mentality into a more well-rounded repertoire.
"A lot of those players, it's finesse and speed," Sirota said. "I needed to work on my speed with finesse. I always had the work ethic, but I had to fine tune my level of skill up a notch."
At this point, tops on the team with 16 goals, 28 points, and four shorthanded goals, Sirota has come a long way. But he is trying not to rest on recent laurels, with Ohio State coming up this weekend.
"We know they are a pretty good team," Sirota said.