What happened last weekend?
The Michigan Tech Huskies traveled to Madison to face the Wisconsin Badgers, and the squads skated to a pair of ties. On Friday night, goaltender Kevin Genoe went 56:49 without surrendering a goal, and winger Blake Pietila scored on a rebound 8:42 in the third period. An offensive zone penalty against the Huskies led to the rebound goal for the Badgers.
On Saturday, the Badgers jumped out to an early lead, but center Daniel Holmberg took advantage of misplayed puck a minute later and got a shot on goal that rebounded to winger Malcolm Gould, who tied the game. The Huskies trailed 3–1 in the second period before defenseman Steven Seigo cut the lead to one with a long shot from the left point. The Huskies dominated the third period and winger Blake Hietala tied the game when he knocked a rebound out of the air.
North Dakota and Denver skated to a 2–2 tie Friday night as forwards Carter Rowney and Corban Knight each scored third period goals. Rowney scored twice in the Saturday night’s game. Winger Rocco Grimaldi added a goal and three assists on consecutive goals as North Dakota skated to a 6–3 win.
What did the Huskies learn about themselves?
While goaltending had been one of the biggest question marks coming into the season, the Huskies might finally be figuring things out between the pipes. Last week, the Huskies had three straight strong performances in goal, starting with a 23-save effort from freshman Jamie Phillips on Tuesday at Northern Michigan. Genoe, a senior, followed that performance with a 64 saves over the two games in Madison.
“I think our goaltending is in a much better place than it was at the start of the season and even a couple of weeks ago,” said Huskies’ head coach Mel Pearson. “Kevin has played extremely well. When you only give up four goals on the road over two games, that’s pretty good. We know we have three goaltenders who can play.”
While things may be settling in net, one of the Huskies’ preseason strengths is being tested right now: its depth. With defensemen Justin Fillion and Daniel Sova out, the Huskies have turned to freshman Walker Hyland and senior Tommy Brown.
“Walker Hyland hasn’t played much up until the last couple of weeks…he’s done a nice job,” said Pearson. “Tommy Brown has been really impressive in what he’s been able to do.”
Injuries to Tanner Kero and Chad Pietila have allowed Hietala, Holmberg and winger Aaron Pietila all the opportunity to make an impact.
“I think all of them have done well,” said Pearson. “Aaron Pietila hasn’t played much, but he’s had to come in and play at Wisconsin. I really thought he came in and added something to the team.”
Sophomore Blake Pietila continues to be a focal point of the Huskies’ offense. With two power play goals and seven more at even strength, Pietila leads the Huskies in goals. Since his three-game pointless streak again Minnesota and Denver, he has five goals and one assist.
While the Great Lakes Invitational is still a couple of weeks away, the Huskies are beginning to look at the possibility that Pietila might not be available due to his participation in the World Junior Tournament for Team USA.
“We are planning on him not being here,” said Pearson. “Obviously, you’d like to have him. It’s an opportunity for someone else to play. It’s good for him and good for our program.”
What still needs work for the Huskies?
Freshman center Jujhar Khaira continues to improve week in and week out. After scoring three points in the first seven games, he has eight in the last eight. Unfortunately, at the same time that his point totals are rising, his penalty totals have also risen, as he has been whistled for six minor penalties over the last five games.
“He’s not the only one,” said Pearson. “It’s a concern. We’ve addressed it and hopefully we won’t need to address it again.”
Another area the Huskies are working on is their power play. Over the last three games, the Huskies have moved the puck very well in the offensive zone, but given that the only goal they’ve scored came off the stick of defenseman Bradley Stebner, there is still room for improvement.
Scouting North Dakota
If there was a good time for the Huskies to face North Dakota during their final trip to the MacInnes Student Ice Arena, this might be it. Sporting an overall record of 8–5–3, North Dakota is just 3–4–0 away from the friendly confines of Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Seniors Corban Knight and Danny Kristo lead North Dakota’s offense along with super sophomore Rocco Grimaldi. Knight has racked up 17 points while Kristo and Grimaldi each have 15.
“They are as skilled as any team in our league,” said Pearson. “Just a strong overall team with good depth.”
Junior goaltender Clarke Saunders has been the main man between the pipes. After two seasons with Alabama–Huntsville, the transfer has already won as many games, six, as he had in his career with the Chargers.