Winter Carnival 2018 coincides with one of the biggest series of the year for the Michigan Tech Huskies (14-12-5) when the Bemidji State Beavers (14-10-6) come to town. BSU leads MTU in the WCHA standings by two games and have six games remaining; Michigan Tech has only four games left. With a large gap on either side of these teams, there is a high likelihood that the duo finish 4-5 in the standings. That means they will face off in the WCHA quarterfinals at the home of the higher seed, making every point this weekend twice as valuable.
Michigan Tech is coming off a strange weekend of polar opposite games. We won’t go too far into it here, but it was nice to see MTU respond after their worst performance of the year Friday night.
The bright spot on Saturday was clearly freshman netminder Robbie Beydoun who posted a 26 save shutout just one day after the Huskies surrendered seven goals to the same team. It would be astonishing to not see him in net Friday night against the Beavers.
Not to be overshadowed by the goaltending storyline is junior forward Jake Lucchini. He had a hand in all four goals in the 4-0 victory, picking up two goals and two assists. His five-point weekend has him now leading the team in scoring. Lucchini is the type who can score from anywhere in the offensive zone, so getting him into a rhythm makes the offense potentially potent.
While Tech is feeling good about the last game they played, BSU heads to Houghton after their worst weekend of the season. The Beavers were shut out twice at home by Lake State in a pair of 2-0 decisions.
The Beavers are led by senior goaltender Michael Bitzer, a four-year starter who has a truly incredible career: His .912 SV% this season is his worst mark yet. Still, he is not quite dominating to the level he did last year when the Beavers won a regular season championship. While him and the BSU defense is slightly more susceptible than last year, this is still one of the best goaltenders the Huskies will see all season.
Offensively, BSU is paced by a pack of upperclassmen forwards. Junior Jay Dickman leads the team with 13 goals and seniors Kyle Bauman and Gerry Fitzgerald lead the team in points with 27 and 23, respectively. This is not a team that scores easily, as seen by being shut out twice last weekend. They score less than three goals a game, although their 2.37 goals allowed is nearly a half goal per game better than MTU.
Bemidji has found success this season mostly off the back of their special teams play. Their power play is solid, scoring 22% of the time – second best in the WCHA and 16th in the nation. It is their penalty kill, however, that makes them hard to beat. Their kill is second in the nation at 88.9%, having allowed only 11 power play goals all season. Unsurprisingly, many of their games are low scoring.
Keys to the Game
- Stick with Robbie Beydoun. I really wish I didn’t have to say this, but it is as equally evident that he gives them the best chance to win right now and Head Coach Joe Shawhan could go right back to Packy Munson on Friday. I said it last week and I will say it again: Beydoun should start every night the rest of the season, for reasons impacting both this year and next.
- Shut down Bemidji early. The Beavers have not scored a goal since January 27th. They will be frustrated and must enter an arena full of people who have been celebrating Winter Carnival with plenty of hydration. The crowd will be raucous and probably not terribly nice to BSU. That frustration will only increase the longer they go without scoring.
- Stay out of the box. For as great as Saturday seemed, Tech took way too many penalties. While they got away with it with some strong killing and a BGSU team that seemed to be checked out, the Beavers are at their scariest when they get power play chances. The Huskies cannot play with that kind of fire and come away with points.
This is a hard weekend to call because BSU seems like a more complete team but they have not played well in a few weeks now. Tech is so hot-and-cold that there is no telling which team shows up. This really smells like a split, which of course means someone ends up sweeping with ease. I’m going with Tech on Friday and Bemidji on Saturday. Tech wins Friday 3-1, Bemidji wins Saturday 4-2.