What happened last weekend?
The Michigan Tech Huskies enjoyed a week away from the grind of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association schedule. Instead of taking on a NCAA opponent, the Huskies competed in an intrasquad game at the Houghton County Arena. Senior Jacob Johnstone opened the scoring for Gold in the first half. Co-captain Blake Pietila and junior David Johnstone extended that lead to 3-0. Black struck three times in a six-minute span including a goal from freshman Patrick Anderson before a second tally for David Johnstone sealed the game for Gold.
The Ferris State Bulldogs, the WCHA leaders, traveled to faceoff with the second-place Minnesota State Mavericks. The hosts proved to be very rude, scoring twice each period Friday night en route to a 6-2 victory. T.J. Schlueter and Brandon Anselmini each tallied for the Bulldogs. C.J. Motte was chased after 41:35 of action. On Saturday, tempers flared for both teams leading to several ejections. Again the hosts proved victorious, winning 4-3 on the strength of three power play goals.
How does an intrasquad game help the Huskies right now?
While an intrasquad game in January might seem like a strange practice, it actually helps the Huskies in a couple of ways. First off, it serves to help keep the competitive juices flowing during an otherwise empty weekend. Secondly, the game featured plenty of offense, something that the Huskies have been sorely lacking of late.
“I thought we had a good intrasquad game,” said head coach Mel Pearson. “I thought we got a lot out of that in terms of guys as far getting some guys quality ice time who haven’t played in game-like situations and other guys who have been playing well to keep sharp.”
Recent returnee David Johnstone led the way with a pair of goals. With six points in 11 games played this season, the Huskies could really use his confidence throughout the lineup.
“You can’t give someone confidence,” said Pearson. “You can play them and put them in situations, but they have to acquire that. You can’t go online and buy it. It’s not a prize in a cereal box. You have to acquire and earn your confidence.”
Any offense the Huskies could find would sincerely help. Currently, the Huskies rank tied for 52nd in team offense. To put that in perspective, only one other WCHA team ranks lower than the Huskies, Alabama-Huntsville, who averages less than a goal a game. Even Michigan State, whom the Huskies have beaten twice at home and once via shootout at the GLI, sit higher, scoring 2.38 goals per game.
What is the state of the Huskies’ goaltending right now?
Sophomore goaltender Jamie Phillips also caught his coach’s attention during the intrasquad contest, thanks to a shutout in 25 minutes of action. Phillips has seen action in eight of the team’s first 26 games, including each of the last four. Pearson and his staff are hoping that he has caught fire at just the right time.
“We have to win,” said Pearson. “That’s the bottom line. We have to find a goalie who can win games now.”
The Huskies are tied for 14th in the country in overall team defense. Their 2.35 goals against per game sees them tied with St. Cloud State, and ahead of all WCHA opponents with the exception of the 11th-ranked Bulldogs, who surrender 2.32 goals per game.
Who is this Patrick Anderson character you mentioned earlier?
Three Huskies have yet to make an appearance in the lineup this season, junior defensemen Justin Fillion and Jimmy Davis and freshman winger Patrick Anderson. Davis is close to returning for the Huskies and Fillion will not dress at all this season first due to injury and now due academic issues.
Anderson has yet to officially don a Huskies’ sweater in two years of school, but his efforts in practice and off ice have not gone unnoticed by Pearson and his staff.
“I thought I really noticed him,” said Pearson. “He scored. His work ethic and his compete level were really good.”
The 5’11” forward from Bismarck, North Dakota, played two seasons with the New Mexico Mustangs of the North American Hockey League before coming to Houghton. He scored 30 goals and 56 points over the two seasons, so he may have been a longshot to make an impact at the Division I level, but that has not kept him from proving his worth in other ways.
“He’s a hard-working kid,” said Pearson. “He’s one of the favorites on the team because he just comes and works. He just goes about his business. He does everything the right way.”
A deeper look at the Bulldogs
After a 16-game unbeaten streak to vault up to the No. 2 ranking before Christmas, the Bulldogs have gone just 3-3 to start the New Year. While the recent record is not impressive, the Bulldogs feature a deep roster and a strong work ethic. Junior goaltender C.J. Motte has also been very strong in goal, giving them confidence that should they make a mistake, he will be there to back them up.
Senior Garrett Thompson continues to play well, leading the team with 11 goals and 23 points in 25 games. Junior Justin Buzzeo is one of two other Bulldogs with 10 goals. Freshman Kyle Schempp continues to impressive with his seven goals and 17 points.
Motte saw his record drop to 17-3-3 last weekend, but he continues to be the front runner for All-WCHA First Team honors. He sports a 2.33 goals against average along with a 92.5% save percentage.
The Huskies will need all the energy they have shown in practice the last few days to keep the Bulldogs at bay throughout the weekend. The Huskies currently sit 12 points back of the Bulldogs, but with a strong effort could cut into that lead.
Game times are 7:07 p.m. both Friday and Saturday night at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.