The Huskies had a bye weekend and played an inter-squad game Saturday at historic Dee Stadium in downtown Houghton. That event — which ended in a predictable tie — had no impact on Michigan Tech’s national status, and they ended up ranked 11th in the all-important Pairwise system. They also held onto their #18 ranking in the national polls. However, most of the other teams in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association were in action over the weekend, and the Old Dog hooked up his laptop and scanned as many of the games as he could.
There were three weekend series to choose from, and each had an interesting story line. And, to add some MTU-centric interest to these games, Tech will be playing all of the CCHA teams involved before Christmas.
Bemidji State at Northern Michigan
Playing on the Olympic-sized ice in Marquette at the Litterbox, the Wildcats hosted the Beavers in what turned out to be a very entertaining two game set. In both contests, Bemidji scored in the last half of the final period after otherwise see-saw battles to pull ahead by a goal for two victories. On Friday, the Beavers prevailed 5-4, and on Saturday they swept the series with a 4-3 win.
It was a bit difficult to know what to make of this. The goaltending for both teams was average at best, and there were more than a few defensive lapses. There were also some very nice goals from both teams, and things got a bit heated at times, too.
There were some noteworthy trends. First, both teams have offensive punch. Second, NMU has quite a few relatively small, fast forwards. And more to the point, both of these teams have strong squads in the top half of their lineup, but things drop off quite a bit after that. Don’t misunderstand; these are both teams that can and may well finish in the top half of the CCHA standings this year. However, the difference between their top two lines and the rest of their lineups is considerable.
Tech will face off against Northern in their traditional home-and-home series on November 12-13 and travel to Bemidji for a two game set the following weekend.
Union College at Lake Superior State
Based on the talent that left Sault Ste. Marie after last season, the Lakers were likely to have a difficult challenge reloading. So far, though, they look like they’ll be better than the Old Dog thought when I reviewed their roster.
In the first game of the series played at the Soo, LSSU jumped ahead 5-2 in the first period and while the Dutchmen from Union closed to within a goal about 5 minutes into the third period. The Lakers then scored two late goals to seal a 7-4 win. In the second game, Union jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Lake State roared back with 5 goals in the last two periods to complete the sweep.
So, are the Lakers better than the preseason polls suggest? Could they be as good as they were last year when they won the WCHA playoff championship? Union may not be a great team — they are 1-5-1 after their LSSU losses — but Lake State looks a lot like the team that surprised everyone last year. Their goaltending isn’t as good, and their ability to clog the lanes and stifle their opponents isn’t either. But they play with sound structure, they can make plays and their shooters can find the openings. They are now 5-3 overall and two of their losses were in Ann Arbor against the loaded-to-the-gills Michigan Wolverines.
The Huskies will find out how good this LSSU team might be on November 5th and 6th in Houghton.
Ferris State at St. Thomas
By almost any appraisal, these are the two teams picked to finish in the bottom two slots in the CCHA this season. FSU’s Bulldogs are coming off a terrible season and have had only modest success in recruiting lately. The Tommies are playing their first Division I season after a long history as a Division III power — and about half of their players are from last year’s DIII team.
In the first contest, STU broke a scoreless tie in the middle of the second period only to see Ferris State tie the game early in the third. Neither team could score in the remaining regulation time, and the Bulldogs won in overtime—and temporarily avoided being the first team to lose to St. Thomas in Division I.
However, on Saturday, St. Thomas scored the first five goals and FSU squeezed in two in the final period giving St. Thomas their first DI win. Are there any takeaways from these games? Well, St. Thomas is a bit better than some (including the Old Dog) might have thought, and Ferris is a bit worse. However, nothing in these games suggests that either team will climb out of the bottom of the CCHA this year.
It will take somewhat longer for these two teams to come up on the Huskies’ schedule. Ferris State will play in Houghton during Thanksgiving weekend, while Tech will travel to Minnesota to take on the Tommies in their last action before the Christmas break on December 10-11.
The New CCHA Is Already Impressing People
Aside from the games, the CCHA was showcasing their new broadcast standards, standards that new commissioner Don Lucia promised over the summer. Mostly, they did not disappoint; the camera work was sharp, the angles were worthy of NHL broadcasts and the stream quality was quite good. The white balance might have been on the strong side in all three series, and some of the play-by-play announcers didn’t quite have the hang of switching over to the referee mics when penalties and reviews were announced.
The referees, though, did just what Kevin Langseth suggested on THG’s Chasing MacNaughton podcast: they called a lot of penalties for things like hooking, interference, slashing and holding — infractions that obscure player skill and result in the kind of low scoring and often tedious games that the old WCHA was noted for. All of the teams did seem to adjust some during the Saturday games, but the higher level of scoring seen in almost all of the games may have been at least partially a result of the officiating.
Beyond the penalties, the referees were also quite good in making announcements to the arena with their wireless system, including reviews of goals and potential major penalties. Everything was smooth and professional, and it was a real benefit to the flow and watchability of the games.
As a final note, St. Thomas’s arena, while clearly not up to DI standards, is clean, brightly lit and looks great. It is, based on comments from Discord Dog wogggieee who was at the FSU games, very cold inside and not pleasant for spectators as a result. The only drawback on the stream cast was that the spectator netting, which completely prevents pucks from going into the seating areas, made the video look blurry at times.
Last but not least for the CCHA, Bowling Green notched an overtime tie and a win against in-state rival and NCHC member Miami last weekend. This is another good sign for the new CCHA, which is certainly improving on the non-league results that the WCHA has had in the past.
Next Up for The Huskies
Michigan Tech will return to the ice this weekend in Potsdam, NY, which is about as far away from Ottawa, Canada as Marquette is from Houghton. They’ll face the Clarkson University Golden Knights, one of the early preseason favorites in the East Coast Athletic Conference (ECAC). Clarkson is currently 3-1-1, but all three of their wins have come against Alaska, so it’s a bit difficult to know how good they may be. Friday’s game starts at 7 PM Eastern time, while Saturday’s puck drop will occur at 7:30 PM.