Welcome to THG’s first series preview for the 2021-22 season! The first matchup of the season features our Michigan Tech Huskies facing off against the University of Wisconsin (Madison) Badgers. As is tradition for the first series preview of the season, this one will be a longer than normal read as there is much to go over regarding both teams! 

Analysis

First up, the Badgers. They recently played the UMD Bulldogs, losing that game by a score of 4-2. Sadly, no stats were taken during that game, with even the NCHC score sheet being blank. However, journalists did take a few stats and recaps are available.

The Badgers find themselves in a similar situation to our Huskies with a large outgoing group of players (7)  and an even bigger influx of incoming players (10). Those leaving are: 

This list of seven players is quite a punch to the gut if you are a Badger fan, as it includes their top four offensive players and former Husky and experienced netminder Robbie Beydoun. Needless to say, Wisconsin is losing a huge amount of production with that group of 6 skaters accounting for 55.55% of the team’s total point production. What was the Badger’s strength last year will now be their weakness, as they wait to see if their returning or incoming players can jump in and fill the holes left. 

As for the 10 players joining the roster, Huskies fans will recognize some players on the list:

The biggest names Tech fans will recognize are forwards Carson Bantle and Max Johnson, who along with goaltender Jared Moe make up the entirety of Wisconsin’s NCAA acquired talent. However, this only nets the Badgers 27 NCAA points back of the 175 lost. This means the team will have to replace 46.98% of last year’s offensive output to break even on the year (assuming Johnson and Bantle don’t regress from last season’s totals). 

Not all is lost with this Badger team though. They maintain a very good defensive depth, with losing only Ty Emberson while also retaining their 1b goaltender in now-sophomore Cameron Rowe (9-2-1, 2.05 GAA, .933 SV% last season). I would expect that the Huskies will have their work cut out for them on the offensive side of things. 

Now it’s time to move to our Huskies. They are entering this weekend after tying an exhibition with Northern Michigan 4-4. The game sadly wasn’t available on streaming platforms, though Tech’s own Dirk Hembroff was able to provide play by play over the radio. I managed to take some notes during the game regarding how the players looked and how the pacing of the game was, so let’s dive right in. 

We’ll start with this new team and the players that are notably absent from the starting line up. Jake Crespi, Logan Pietila, Justin Misiak, Eric Gotz, and Mark Sinclair were all making the line up pretty consistently last season, so not seeing them is a bit worrisome. We have heard some updates regarding a few players, with Justin Misiak being out for two weeks (as of Saturday’s game per Coach Shawhan’s pre game interview) as well as Eric Gotz being out for at least this upcoming Wisconsin series per Coach Shawhan’s Monday radio show. Finally, the last known update is that Senior Netminder Mark Sinclair is also out due to injury, but no time table has been given. Whether or not he ends up making the trip to Madison is unknown at the writing of this preview. 

Next up is the actual game itself. I’m going to try and break it down period by period. In the first, we saw a quick and physical start from Tech taking advantage of their size and speed. The top listed line of Mosley-Bronte-Ashbrook was an instant hit with their effort and puck control. However, NMU was the first to get on the board with the defensive pair of Docter-Lipe being on the ice at the time. In fact, NMU would be taking advantage of this pairing again with their second goal as well. This put Tech in a hole regarding both puck control and defensive pressure. They seemed to be playing more on their heels until Bronte’s line was able to get things started with a power play goal. 

That first goal acted as a catalyst, which ended up in Tech having a good PK and scoring a second goal toward the end of the 1st period. 

The second period saw an NMU goal on a snipe by a Wildcat defenseman at the blue line, but afterward Tech’s defense started to find their legs while the offense was stalling out. Nothing much else happened besides a goaltender switch for the Huskies with Cayden Bailey getting his first ever NCAA play time. 

Period three is when things started to heat up for the Huskies with two quick goals coming off the sticks of Caderoth and Ashbrook just over a minute apart. This offense could have been due to a Huskies team finally putting things together, but also due to Northern switching to Freshman Goaltender Charlie Glockner, who had never played in NCAA hockey before. I would like to think it was the former, but there are too many variables at play to be conclusive. Lastly, NMU was able to tie the game on a power play goal and that would be the end of any scoring. 

The game would eventually end in a tie. As coach Shawhan has stated several times throughout the week leading  up to the game and after, this game served as an evaluation game to see where players stack up for future roster spots. As such, players like Nick Nardella, Blias Richartz, Grant Docter, Trevor Russell, and Brenden Datema all saw high ice time minutes and to my eye looked to be the ones fighting for a roster spot. This is all just speculation to my semi-trained hockey eye, but I think this is roughly the group Coach Shawhan was wanting to watch. 

Moving on to notable players for the Huskies other than the already mentioned Mosley-Bronte-Ashbrook line, other notable players include: Matthew Quercia (pronounced: Core-see-ah) was an instant stand out with his size and physicality. Look for him to be a strong power forward this season. Parker Saretsky also made his presence known with very good puck movement and defensive players. Marcus Pedersen’s two-way ability was on full display as he was able to play in both zones to great effect. Finally, Michael Karow was a direct slot into the defensive core playing big minutes and making the most of it. 

Coming into Wisconsin this coming weekend, I see the following players being expected to play in a daily capacity: 

Forwards: Mosley, Bronte, Ashbrook, Bliss, Quercia, Parrottino, Ganie, Saretsky, Haloen, Broetzman, Caderoth, Perderson 

Defense: Karow, Swoyer, Buckley, Thorne, Lipe

The forward core is probably the deepest we have seen since my beginnings as a Tech hockey fan (almost a decade ago now). Once Misiak, L. Pietila, and Crespi are back in the fold, it will be a 6-7 way battle for only one or two spots where a player might be sat out of a game or two. 

Regarding the defense, I only list five players as expected everyday starters. This is due to Gotz being out for at least this coming series. The top three would be Karow, Swoyer, and Gotz with Buckley, Thorne, and Lipe being the bottom three D-man at the moment. I would expect Docter, Russell, and Datema all competing for that 6th spot or the extra skater slot. 

To round out the current Husky roster, I see Blake Pietila being the starter with Mark Sinclair being in a backup/1B capacity. Cayden Bailey will, however, be in that place until Sinclair makes a return. Unless something catastrophic happens in Friday’s game, expect Pietila to have the net both nights.

Keys to the Game

  1. Flex your offensive muscles. The Huskies for the first time in my memory have the better offense on paper compared to Wisconsin. The Badgers have lost so much scoring the Huskies should be favored in this category hands down.
  2. Gritty isn’t just in the NHL. Coach Shawhan’s squad has demonstrated that they are willing to get gritty goals. This came in their first period with two goals which were by no means pretty. But, they don’t ask “how?”, they ask “how many?”.
  3. Don’t forget to back check. This was something I noticed in the scrimmage with NMU. The Huskies let the Wildcats get past them on zone entries resulting in one or even two skates down by the net while the Huskies were still at the hash marks. The forwards are just as responsible for defense in this Joe Shawhan era of Tech hockey. The Huskies had one of the best defenses in the nation and I only expect it to be better this season.

My Prediction

The Huskies are finally the better team on paper going into this weekend. The USCHO and USA Today polls might have the Badgers and 13 and 14 respectively, but I find that hard to believe given all the talent lost. As Coach Shawhan said the Badgers have a good defense and goaltending and I agree with him, but they have lost over half their offensive production. They were a top heavy team last season and they lost that entire top end. This is Tech’s series to lose. MTU wins 3-1. MTU wins 4-2.

The guys on our Chasing MacNaughton Podcast also made predictions for this coming series against the Wisconsin Badgers. Season Three Episode Three’s liner notes can be found here.

How to Watch

This series’ games are available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (free), and via B1G+ (paywall) for video or on TV via BALLY SPORTS WISCONSIN. Game 1 will be Friday at 8:00 EDT, game 2 will be Saturday at 8:00 EDT.