Mrs. Dog and I headed to Saginaw this past Saturday to watch the Huskies take on Saginaw Valley State on the football field, and while the Huskies hung in for three quarters, SVSU had too much and the Cardinals came away with a 23-7 victory. Now we’re only two weeks away from opening the 2019-20 hockey season, the 99th year of Husky hockey at Tech.
In this week’s column, the Old Dog will start looking at the schedule for the first half of the season, leading up the Great Lakes Invitational tournament over the holidays in Detroit. At this point in the year, there’s not much to go on other than what the pundits have to say (is the Old Dog a pundit or just a pun?) and what’s happened to each team after last year wrapped up. Things may be clearer after the holiday season and all the teams have played about half of their games.
But right now, the Old Dog’s crystal ball is foggy. Wait, maybe that’s just cataracts…but seriously, it’s hard to tell what might happen when no games have been played.
I’ve downloaded all of the team rosters and results for last year, and compared last years’ rosters with this year, and tried to factor in what the various pre-season polls say. In addition, I’ve shaded my judgments a bit based on each of the Huskies opponents’ records for the 2018-19 season.
The Old Dog will tackle this in two parts. Today, we’ll review the schedule through the Minnesota State series in Houghton on November 8-9. Tomorrow, we’ll dig into the rest of the games, and conclude with an overall summary of what the first half of the 2019-2020 season might look like.
October 5-6: At Robert Morris
The Colonials will host the Huskies in Pittsburgh to open the season. Last year was an off year for RMU, finishing in the 8th slot in Atlantic Hockey with an overall record of 16-22-2. When looking at their roster, you see a lot of the same things you see on Tech’s roster. There are only five seniors, and they lost two of their top five scorers from last year. They’ve added a transfer goalie—Justin Kappelmaster, who had one good year with Ferris State but then struggled in 2018-19. But they also return their leading scorer from last season, Luke Lynch, who had 10 goals and 21 assists in 40 games.
Outlook: It’s the first two games of the year, and on the road for Tech. The Huskies could sweep, but not winning at least one of the two games would be a disappointment. A lot could depend on which team gets the best goaltending each night.
October 11-12: Alaska Fairbanks
The Nanooks will come to Houghton to open the home schedule for the Huskies. UAF’s results last year weren’t great, and with all of the turmoil in Alaska over funding the state university system, it’s been an unsettled time for both players and coaches. UAF has a ton of returning players, but not much scoring. However, it appears that all of last year’s roster—except for those graduating—have stuck with the Nanooks, so the look of this team should be much the same as last season.
That includes Gustav Grigals, who drove the Huskies crazy in net last year with a barrel of improbable saves in a 2-1 UAF loss. They also return most of their scoring punch from 2018-19, but only one player (defenseman Tristan Thompson) who topped 20 points.
Outlook: With the Nanooks making the long trip south, and with the Huskies’ edge in talent, anything less than 5 WCHA points will be a disappointment. In the past few seasons, UAF just hasn’t been able to handle Tech. The Nanooks will be arriving in the UP after playing in Denver the previous weekend—but if Joe Shawhan and his staff don’t have MTU prepped for this one, things could go wrong.
October 25-26: At Bowling Green
After a week off, Tech will head to Ohio to face the Falcons. BGSU lost key players from last year’s NCAA tournament team—which fell to champion Minnesota-Duluth in overtime in the first round. However, they’ve got a lot coming back, including most of their top scorers and best defenseman, Alec Rauhauser. They’ve lost lead goalie Ryan Bednard, who was All-WCHA Third Team, but also return netminder Eric Dop, who posted stellar marks of 1.94 goals against and an unreal 0.948 save percentage in 9 games.
The Falcons will be adjusting to a new coach, though, as Ty Eigner replaces Chris Bergeron, who’s moved on to Miami. This is always a wild card, so it’s hard to know exactly how things will go. But Bowling Green looks to be very capable and they could be a serious contender in the WCHA.
Outlook: This will be a major test for the Huskies. If they can get a split on the road, that will be a solid showing. But they could be swept, too, and that shouldn’t be seen as a shock if it goes down that way.
November 2: At North Dakota—the US Hockey Hall of Fame Game
The Huskies make a one game trip to The Ralph in Grand Forks to square off with the Fighting Hawks. (It still seems strange to the Old Dog to use that nickname.) As always, NoDak has talent (10 NHL draft picks), as well as 6 freshmen and one graduate transfer (from Colorado College) added to the roster.
They’ve struggled a bit in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference in the past few years, but the Old Dog won’t kid you—the NCHC is a tougher place to play than the WCHA. They also return both goalies who handled the bulk of the minutes last year, so there’s strength there, too.
Outlook: In a one game series with a national audience, anything can happen. I think this game will depend on how the Huskies fare against BGSU. If they get swept, I suspect they’ll have trouble bouncing back in a hostile environment. If they perform well in Ohio, though, this could be a pick ‘em game.
November 8-9: Minnesota State
The Mavericks have it all—plenty of skill and most of their scoring back from last year’s powerhouse team, one of the best coaches in the business (Mike Hastings), a great sophomore class that performed well last year, and some highly regarded freshmen, too. They also have the WCHA’s projected player of the year, Marc Michaelis, and last year’s freshman of the year, goalie Dryden McKay.
Outlook: If Tech can get any league points in this series, it will be due to the Huskies’ depth and because their younger players have matured quickly. They’ll have to work like Dogs and try to wear out the Mavs. But it would not be even a mild surprise if the Purple Cows sweep Them Dogs.
Tomorrow: We’ll work through the rest of the games in 2019, starting with Lake Superior State and concluding with Clarkson College.