The Michigan Tech Huskies (2-1-0) find themselves back in Potsdam, New York to face off against the Clarkson Golden Knight (3-1-1) for the first time since the 2018 season. The Huskies are coming off of a bye week after losing to Notre Dame with ~5 seconds left in overtime. Clarkson continues their homestand after sweeping the now independent Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks (1-5-0).

Analysis

As we enter into week 4 (or in some cases 5) of this 21’-22’ season, it should be easier to get a feel for how a team should perform. Sadly this isn’t the case with this Clarkson team. They have five games played, but four of them have been against Nanooks with two in Fairbanks and two in Potsdam. They managed a 3-1-0 record against a pretty underwhelming Nanooks team, whom all things considered still have a lot of the same players from when the Huskies last saw them in 2019, despite their lack of a 2020-21 season and the uncertainty of their program. 

The Nanooks have been able to put forth some competitive games against the Golden Knights and Omaha (5-1-0), so there’s some ability to benchmark Clarkson by association. I will be pulling a lot of stats from the College Hockey News’ (CHN) website, including part of an ECAC preview they did during the off season. I would highly recommend their site if you are at all interested in diving into the stats of the college hockey world. 

The first and most important aspect of this Clarkson team is their experience. They have 10 players of senior or graduate level. That in and of itself is massive, whereas our Huskies have nine players of the same status. Expect a similar level of play we have become accustomed to this season regarding how players are able to perform in high stress situations. Now that we are a few matchups into the season, I can start giving some more up-to-date stats as well. For the Golden Knights, here at the current point leaders and goaltending info:

The main thing to note is that three out of the four top scorers are upperclassmen and that the Golden Knights are extremely top heavy, though not in the way you might think. Clarkson currently has 16 goals on the season with nine of them being power play goals. This results in ~56% of their scoring coming in special teams, by comparison the Huskies have 11 goals on the season with only three coming on the power play for ~27%.  Additionally, Clarkson’s PP% currently sits at 30% on the year, showing this team’s main strength. This strength is also their weakness in the sense that if they do not get power play opportunities, their offensive production can easily get cut in half. 

The final piece to this Clarkson puzzle is their netminding in Ethan Haider. He will be starting this weekend without a doubt. He appears to be on a similar level to Tech’s Blake Pietila. Though this match up should be his first real test, as the Huskies (at least on paper) sport a much better offense than UAF. 

Switching gears to our Huskies, they took a much needed week off after a poor performance against the Fighting Irish where they managed to come back and force overtime before succumbing to defensive zone mistakes, losing with 5 seconds left in NCAA standardized 3 vs 3 overtime. Though disappointing, this game was not all a loss. There are a few very important takeaways from this game, the most important being our resilience. Notre Dame was able to smother Tech’s system and by association offensive production. Tech also didn’t play their best hockey either, but the Huskies still managed to take the game to overtime and almost tie it. 

This is huge in the grand scheme of this program and just how far it’s come, because if you look at Notre Dame’s games after they played the Huskies, we see they stomped NMU (2-3-0) 5-2 and then split with RIT, taking one of those games by a score of 6-0. The Huskies may have not played their best hockey, but it was still good enough to take a team like Notre Dame to overtime and almost tie. 

The next takeaway is more of a comparison to coaching with Joe Shawhan being the pseudo-Jedi apprentice to the Jedi Master that is Jeff Jackson. Shawhan’s defense first system is heavily inspired by Jackson, whom he is also good friends with. This was a battle of the little things more than anything else, and Shawhan and the Huskies showed that their system is ready to graduate onto the next level. This is very promising and is representative of just how much time and effort went into establishing such a system. Coach Shawhan took the reins five years ago while the team was geared towards offense. It took time, but the transition is finally complete. 

However, there is one downside to this system, which was on display in both Friday’s game against Notre Dame and Saturday’s exhibition against the U-18 NPDT and that is the lack of speed the Huskies have. Though the defense first system has proven to be very effective, the lack of speed compared to what was seen against both teams proved to be a defining downfall. The Huskies were forced to react and lost important puck races instead of being able to continually apply pressure. This could just be a case of players still getting their legs underneath them or maybe conditioning, but as of right now only time will tell if they are able to keep up with teams from a speed perspective.

Keys to the Game

  1. Special Teams. This is the single most important factor for this weekend. The Huskies need to stay out of the box if they want any chance of winning. Tech appears to be better 5 on 5 at least on paper, but Clarkson is the clear favorite when it comes to power plays.
  2. Composure. Going along with the theme of special teams, the Huskies will need to keep their cool and not take any stupid penalties. They have performed well so far not retaliating against opponents nor have they been too reckless when it comes to finishing checks. Hopefully this trend continues.
  3. Offensive Pressure. The Golden Knights should be more in line with what the Huskies saw from Wisconsin (2-4-0). They are a more offensive than defensive team whereas Notre Dame was the opposite. Tech will need to take advantage of all the O-zone time they can get, because they might not get too much off it if they slip up.

My Prediction

All and all this should be a very exciting series to watch. The new relationship Tech and Clarkson have built is something more schools should strive for. It continues to excite and more importantly bridge the gap between Eastern and Western schools. On paper, Tech is a more rounded team, but I would expect a split given the Bye week and high amount of traveling for the Huskies. MTU wins 3-2, CLK wins 2-1.  

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

Cover photo courtesy Michigan Tech Athletics.

How to Watch

Both games are available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (free), via ESPN+ (paywall) for video. Game 1 will be Friday at 7:00 EDT and game 2 will be Saturday at 7:30 EDT.