After an unexpected two weeks off, the Michigan Tech Huskies (6-3-1) find themselves in the receiving end of returning to play after an extended absence due to Covid-19 protocols. Their opponent is none other than the Lake Superior State Lakers (4-3-3). The Lakers find themselves in a precarious position after starting off on a strong note.

Analysis

The Lakers find themselves coming off a rough weekend in which they got swept by the Minnesota State Mavericks. They were shut out in game one 0-3 and then lost 2-6 in game two. Looking through the box scores reveals a closer look to how the Lakers fell: penalties. Over the two-game series the Lakers had 14 penalties (1 major) totaling 31 mins. This generated the expect result one would expect playing at a team like the Mavericks with a lack of control over the game pacing. Not all is bad with the Lakers this year however. Senior goaltender Mareks Mitens (4-3-3, 1.92 GAA, .932 SV%) has been showing he is a real number one starter and has been getting the help he needs from the blue line and forward core. In addition, the Lakers have been able to keep every other series competitive, splitting with Alabama-Huntsville (2-5-1), Bemidji State (3-4-2) and sweeping this year’s WCHA punching bag: The Northern Michigan Wildcats (2-8-0). That being said, I think this series will be closer than it should be given the extended time off for the Huskies and the itch to improve after last weekend for the Lakers. The Huskies have found themselves out of play for the past two weeks after concluding a sweep of Alabama-Huntsville. We saw the split start of Logan Pietila (5-1-0, 1.22 GAA, .959 SV%) in game one earning a shutout and Mark Sinclair (1-2-1, 2.56 GAA, .893 SV%) in game two. Both have continued to show their dominance this season with Pietila taking on the roll of de-facto starter in my opinion. I would look to Joe Shawhan for the final call of course, but it is hard not to choose Pietila right now. Looking toward the blue line and the offensive zone, the Huskies have also seen great strides taken resulting in their recent success. At the begin of this season I would have felt that the Huskies blue line only has three or four regulars come game night with two to three spots that could be rotated between players.  However, now only 10 games in to the season it truly feels like the Huskies have a full six skaters that you can start every night. Colin Swoyer (newly named alternate captain), Eric Gotz, Tyler Rockwell, Brett Thorne, Chris Lipe, and Tyrell Buckley have all shown what they can do this season. This allows for an increased amount of line up flexibility for Coach Shawhan with the extra skater slot, giving opportunities to either forwards trying to get minutes or a seventh D like Brenden Datema and his shot on the power play. In the offensive zone the line of Bliss-Misiak-Parrottino has been firing on all cylinders with Justin Misiak thriving at his new center position. Also, the other three forward lines though every changing are still nothing to slouch at. The Bantle-Pietila/Caderoth-Halonen line has been seeing a lot of success with puck control and zone time. If anything needs to be said of this Huskies team, it’s that they are an exciting young group of players with high skill ceilings that are finally putting it together. I look forward to see how they do it this weekend.

Keys to the Game

  1. Coach Your Heart out. I don’t know if Coach Shawhan reads my previews, but if he happens to take the time out of his busy day to see this one, I would tell him to wear this series on his sleeve. In their last meeting, Lakers Head Coach Damon Whitten read the Huskies’ system like a book. I would expect a similar thing to happen this weekend and for it to be even more effect due to extended break for the Huskies. It will be up to the Coaches behind the bench to make sure this doesn’t happen.
  2. Special Teams. The Huskies’ special teams have been fantastic so far this season with a 17.9% PP% T-28 and a 95.8% PK 1st. That’s right, the Michigan Tech Huskies have the best penalty kill in the Nation. The Lakers on the other hand have had a rough go with special teams with a 6% PP% 51st and 85.5% PK5 17th. They Lakers currently hold the worst power play in the nation and hopefully the Huskies can keep it that way.
  3. Riding a Bike. It has been a while since their last game the Huskies will have to be careful not to fall behind the Lakers who have been in “game shape” for the past two weeks. Hopefully Tech has been able to keep up their practices and are ready to go.

My Prediction

Given the lack of games for the Huskies these last two weeks, the Lakers should have the edge going into game one. What remains to be seen is whether or not they are able to capitalize on it. Given how much the Huskies’ defense has improved from the beginning of the season I would expect them to be capable to weather the storm and allow for the needed adjustment time for the forwards. If the Huskies are able to play, they will win. MTU wins 4-2, MTU wins 3-0.   The guys on our Chasing MacNaughton Podcast also made predictions for this coming series against Lake State. Episode 12 liner notes can be found here.

How to Watch

Both games are available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (free), and via flohockey.tv* (paywall) for video. Game 1 will be Friday at 6:07 Est and game 2 will be Saturday at 4:07 Est. *Flohockey.tv is also the source of all games played in WCHA buildings this season so don’t be afraid to sign up for a month or the year. Flo Sports now has apps for iOS, Android (with Chromecast support), Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku. Cover image courtesy Ryan Johnson.