As Tech travels to Mankato to take on Minnesota State this coming weekend, with advancement in the WCHA playoffs at stake, The Old Dog is gonna stick his neck out and tell you that the Huskies can beat the Mavericks in a two-out-of-three series.
Make no mistake, this year’s MacNaughton Cup winners are the most talented team in the WCHA since it was reshuffled. They have more experience, more talent, a powerful offense, a very good goal tender, a great coach in Mike Hastings and a 31-5-2 overall record (23-4-1 in the WCHA). And any sensible, rational projection would say that the Mavericks will win the WCHA playoffs, probably in two games that won’t even be close.
After all, they are #2 in the Pairwise Ratings, rated #2 in the USCHO poll and #3 in the USA TODAY poll.
But I think the Huskies have a genuine chance to pull off an upset in this best of three series. Here are 15 reasons I think that’s the case:
- Tech was swept by MSU in early November at the JMac by scores of 3-0 and 2-1. With a bit of luck, the Huskies could have had a split then. And the Huskies are much improved since that series.
- Tech is much better on the road than they are at home. I don’t know why that’s the case, but they are.
- The Huskies tend to play down to weaker teams but up to stronger teams. The play their best when the opposition is strongest.
- Matt Jurusik is playing the best hockey of his career right now. And, great goaltending can enormously frustrate good teams.
- Tech’s freshmen aren’t really freshmen anymore. As we saw this past weekend, Logan Ganie and Logan Pietila are now ready for prime time, and so is Parker Saretsky.
- Justin Misiak is also playing the best hockey of his collegiate career lately. Joe Shawhan is rewarding him with time on the first two lines—and Misiak may well have been the best player on the ice Saturday night in the triple overtime win against Northern. He could cause all kinds of trouble for MSU in a best-of-three series. More importantly, he makes big plays when they matter most: a stacked-pad, lost-my-stick shot block when NMU looked like they’d get a powerplay goal; making a brilliant pass to Alex Smith for the game tying goal in Friday’s game; and his clever setup of Pietila for the game winner Saturday.
- Tech’s defense has continued to improve almost every week. Colin Swoyer is giving Tech some real offensive punch from the blueline, Seamus Donohue and Tyler Rockwell are playing the best I’ve ever seen them play, and Eric Gotz is rock-steady. Brendan Datema is starting to figure out the game at the NCAA level, too.
- Upfront, several players are peaking at the right time. Tommy Parrottino has been showing NHL caliber play lately, Brian Halonen is playing like he’s possessed and Alec Broetzman is becoming a very savvy player in both ends. Add in Ray Brice’s undeniable skills and work ethic, and Jake Crespi’s continued development, and Tech is now pushing the offensive envelope further than they have at any time during the season. If Trenton Bliss is available after his injury Saturday night, and able to play at full tilt, that’s even more Husky firepower.
- Alex Smith is not only playing the best hockey of his entire career at Tech, but he’s also providing a level of senior leadership that is critical to going deep in the playoffs. He’s also a faceoff ace—critical in the playoffs—and he seems to be rubbing off on Logan Pietila in the circle as well. Both game winning goals against NMU came when Pietila won an offensive zone draw. When Pietila sets up for a draw, you can see his confidence in his stance, his shoulders, and his stick positioning.
- MSU is not invincible. They’ve lost to Northern, St. Cloud State, Bowling Green and twice to Bemidji State. If Tech wins on Friday, they may start to squeeze their sticks to tightly, particularly if Jurusik holds the form he’s been showing.
- The Mavericks have an earned reputation for faltering when the spotlight grows brightly. They’ve had a hard time winning the WCHA playoff crown even when they are the best team in the league and they’ve done very poorly in the NCAA tournament. When the competition gets stiff, MSU has had difficulty for several years.
- I believe Tech learned something about themselves and about winning this past weekend in Marquette. Will it carry over? I think it may well do so.
- MSU is coming off a very easy series against Alaska Anchorage, and may take Tech lightly, no matter what Hastings tells them.
- Tech played #1 North Dakota to a dead standstill in Grand Forks in the Hall of Fame Game. A late goal by the NoDaks prevented overtime against Tech—and that one could have gone the other way. It would not have taken a miracle for Tech to win that game. They also played #9 Clarkson even up—and should have won the Friday gate in that series and were leading on Saturday before a major penalty derailed the Huskies—showing that Tech does not live in fear or awe of very good teams. They know who they are, and, if they can bring that to the ice in Mankato, it will be very interesting to see how the Mavs react.
- Finally, and most notably, when the Huskies have had to play for something immediate and very important, they’ve been at their very best. They won the GLI against a Michigan team that has been on fire since that loss (12-4-1 in 2020 against the best in the Big Ten) and they beat NMU on the Cats’ ice in the biggest series any of the sophomores and freshmen have ever played in. They’ve shown they are ready for prime time.
Now, for the downside. The Huskies have faltered at odd times this year, and that could happen against the Mavericks. The Mavs have a much better powerplay than Tech (27.2% to 16.4%) and a much tighter penalty kill (93.4% to 82.8). MSU has almost a 100 goal plus differential on the year, and Tech only plus 15.
But playoff series are not decided by statistical averages over an entire year. They are decided by what a team does in a single, exceptionally intense weekend. Would I bet $1,000 on the Huskies? Probably not. But would I lay down $100 if I could get 25-2 odds—the difference in the pairwise? I just might do that one because I think the odds are much shorter than that.
Friday will be here before you realize it.