The WCHA has finally announced a schedule, and hockey will start for the Huskies late in November 21st with a two game road series at Lake Superior State. With the COVID-19 influenced schedule, and an emphasis on minimum travel, Tech will play archrival Northern Michigan six times this year in three home-and-home sessions.

They will also have 4 game sets in home-and-away series with the Lakers, Bemidji State, and the always powerful Minnesota State Mavericks. Alaska will come to Houghton for Winter Carnival, and Tech will then head to Anchorage for what may be their final trip to play the Seawolves.

Tech will also make two trips south, heading to Ferris State and Bowling Green. They won’t be going to Huntsville this year, as the Chargers will make the trip to Houghton instead. In total, Tech has 28 league contests (only 18 will count in the conference standings) scheduled this year; at this time, there are no non-conference games on the schedule, and, unless they set up a game during Christmas break, there are no open weekends to add any more games.

To get all serious puck heads ready for weekends with Dirk Hembroff on MIX-93 and FloHockey, the Old Dog and Tech Hockey Guide will deliver a four part review of the Michigan Tech roster for the coming 2020-2021 season.

This week, we’ll start with one of the more exciting parts of the story, and look at the freshman class for this year’s team. While the story on freshmen is always speculative, this looks like the best incoming class since 2018-2019, and it shows the continuing impact of coach Joe Shawhan’s recruiting efforts.

To compile this report, THG relied on a variety of sources, including the Elite Hockey Prospects website, various junior league websites, new feeds from all over North America, and word-of-mouth leaking out of Houghton during early practices.

Freshman Forwards

Nick Nardella. Nardella struggled as an 18 year old in the USHL but moved to the NAHL for the next two seasons and put up solid numbers, including 51 points the past season. He was also the captain of the Janesville Jets last year, and that’s part of the theme we’ll see with this year’s freshman class.

Carson Bantle. Bantle was selected in the 5th round of this year’s NHL draft by the Arizona Coyotes. At 6’4” and 205 pounds, and only 18 years old, Bantle was an offensive power in the USHL last year with 20 goals and 29 assists in 49 games. He was also an assistant captain on his Madison Capitals team, and he was able to post his numbers on a bad (12-34-4) team. He could be an immediate impact player if he can adjust to the speed of the NCAA game.

Arvid Caderoth. Tech hasn’t had a recruit from Europe in quite a few years, and Caderoth could turn out to be a blockbuster. Another big guy (6’5”, 210 lbs), Caderoth played for Frolunda in the Swedish SuperElit junior league, the main feeder league for the professional Swedish league, the SHL. Caderoth was first an assistant captain in 2018-19, and then captain last year—and his teammates on the Indians included Lucas Raymond (Detroit’s first round pick and #4 overall choice) and Theodor Niederbach (the Red Wing’s third round pick)—and Caderoth wasn’t far behind either of them in scoring.

Blais Richartz. Richartz was hurt last year and missed most of the season. But he’s played 3+ years in the USHL, so he’s got a good deal of experience with high-level competition. He’s a power forward with a hard shot and has a reputation for playing tough in the “dirty area” that Shawhan loves.

Freshman Defensemen

Jed Pietila. Yet another one of the Pietila clan, Jed is from Howell downstate and was the captain of the Austin Bruins (Justin Misiak’s junior team) in the NAHL. He converted from forward to defense while in juniors, and his offensive experience showed as he tallied 29 points (8 goals, 21 assists) and was +9 in 44 games last year.

Brett Thorne. Thorne might be another recruiting steal for the Huskies. Listed at 6’2” and 205 pounds, Thorne tore up the Central Canadian Hockey League last season. He had 74 points, including 27 goals from the blueline in 62 games, and his Carleton Place Canadians were the runaway regular season champions. He was also the CCHL Defenseman of the Year, and a first-team all-star. Thorne had been committed to Alaska-Anchorage, but decided that the Huskies might make a better home than the Seawolves’ troubled program.

Freshman Goalie

Cayden Bailey. Bailey was the NAHL Goaltender of the Year last season, posting a gaudy 1.32 goals against average (an NAHL record) and a .940 save percentage in 30 games. His totals included 11 shutouts, tying another NAHL record. His Lone Star Brahmas team (they play about 30 miles from the Winter Dog House in the DFW area) was champion of the NAHL South Division and posted the best record overall (42-9) for the regular season—in no small part due to Bailey’s net work.

The Old Dog’s Assessment

This could be a great freshman class. Bantle, Caderoth, and Thorne could all be in the lineup early in the season, and Bailey might be the go-to goalie in future years. Whether these freshmen can contribute immediately depends on their ability to acclimate to the speed and maturity of the NCAA, not to mention the pressures of social and academic factors in college life. In this COVID-19 year, that might even be harder than normal.

Overall, I’m excited about seeing what these young men will do during their time at Michigan Tech.