With an off week for Michigan Tech, now is a good chance to take a look back at what has been about half of the season. The Huskies have already played 17 of their 37 games and half of their 28-game WCHA conference schedule. There have been some ups and downs en route to their current 7-6-4 record, so here we will reflect on the positives and negatives of the first half.
The Offense. Unlike last year, the offensive production has not been a limiting factor for the Huskies’ success. This year, they have had a balanced attack from the front of the lineup with six players already picking up double digit points. Sophomores Gavin Gould and Mitch Reinke have broken out in their second season, leading the team with 12 points each.
Senior blueliner Mark Auk has continued to be extremely effective offensively, including playing forward in last Saturday’s victory over Alaska. His versatility and leadership on both ends of the ice have been a big part of the team’s successes.
The Freshmen. I have been impressed with the play of just about every newcomer to the team. Justin Misiak and Greyson Reitmeier have both made real impacts offensively from the beginning. Mitch Meek and Seamus Donohue have helped stabilize a defense that lost so much talent at the end of last season. While there is still plenty of room for improvement and growth, it has been a solid first half for each of these guys.
The IceBreaker Tournament. By far the biggest positive of the first half was MTU’s triumph in Duluth’s season-opening tournament. They smoked a ranked Union team and then defeated the host, and, at the time, number 6 team in the country, in the championship game. In the time since, those wins have continued to look strong with Union’s strong recovery from a rough start and UMD’s current position at 15 in the Pairwise. Regardless of what happens this season, this was a great trophy to win and continued to solidify Michigan Tech’s position as a nationally respected program.
The Special Teams. The powerplay started out so hot this season, but has been equally terrible in the past few weeks. They now are scoring at a lower rate than last year’s team, who also struggled on the man advantage.
The penalty kill has been far worse, only because it has been bad for the entire season. Killing at less than an 80% rate, they are in the bottom third in the nation and better than only UAH in the WCHA. Part of this is a function of some relatively suspect goaltending, especially compared to last year, but clearly there is something that needs fixing from the whole team standpoint. The silver lining? MTU went 11-for-11 when down a man in Fairbanks, so that could be a sign of brighter times ahead.
MTU’s Position in the WCHA. The Huskies currently sit tied for second in points (20), just one point behind conference-leading Minnesota State. The problem? They have played at least four more conference games than any other team. They lead fifth-place UAH by 7 points but the Chargers have six games in hand. Their hold on home ice in the first round is tenuous at best and nonexistent at worse, setting up a serious fight in February to have a chance to host any playoff games at the Mac.
Their six-point weekend in Fairbanks alleviated concerns that they could miss the playoffs entirely, but the chances of them repeating last year’s second-place finish are very slim. They are not well positioned for defending the Broadmoor Trophy on home ice.
The WCHA’s Position Nationally. Once again, the WCHA has struggled mightily non-conference. Their .315 winning percentage is the worst among all conferences, giving the conference’s members very little shot for an at-large bid. MSU is the only team inside the Pairwise top 16 – sitting 8th. The next closest are BGSU (21), NMU (27), and MTU (32). With losses or ties to any other team in the conference being so destructive to any of these team’s RPI, there is a good chance that the WCHA will have only one team in the tournament again.
For Michigan Tech, it is pretty reasonable to suggest that they can only make the national tournament with a run through the WCHA tournament. That is going to be quite difficult, but we saw it before last year.
There are a few games that could help MTU’s pairwise standing. Facing both Michigan State and Michigan in the GLI (and winning) would help them greatly. The following weekend, MTU goes to Las Vegas and opens Arizona State’s tournament with a game against Boston College. This is a great chance to face a national powerhouse in a year where they are not terribly elite.
February is the key month, with series against Bowling Green, Bemidji State and Northern Michigan. They need to come away with quite a few points to lock up some form of home ice in the playoffs.
MTU has two more series this month – home against Ferris and Lake State – before the GLI begins on New Year’s Day. Quite a bit about this team will be learned in the next month with both of those holiday tournaments and 12 more conference points up for grabs.
Featured image credit Ryan Johnson.