Well, it’s time to buckle up as we enter the mid season CCHA grind as the Huskies (4-3-0) set their sights on longtime rivals Northern Michigan (4-5-0). The Huskies are coming off of a split with the Lake Superior State Lakers (7-4-1) while the Wildcats are on a high from sweeping an underwhelming Boston University (3-7-0) team.
The Wildcats are looking to get back on track against teams over .500 this season. So far, they have only managed to beat the BU Terriers and the St. Thomas Tommies (1-11-0) while going winless against the Bemidji State Beavers (4-4-0), Minnesota State Mavericks (7-3-0), and Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-3-0). This also carries over to their stats, where in total we see:
When the Wildcats face weaker teams, their offense clearly excels, giving them an average of 5.75 goals a game. However, their defensive gains are nearly on the same level. They’ve see a large improvement, but not to the same level. Once again, head coach Grant Potulny takes the “offense first” approach, not caring how many goals they give up instead just making sure the Wildcats just score at least one more.
However, Potulny has made a significant change from years previous in that NMU is no longer a leading school in penalties. For the past two seasons, the Wildcats have been in the top of the country for time served in the box and that seems to no longer be the case. This doesn’t mean the Wildcats don’t take penalties, they just don’t have the likes of Hank Sorensen or Tech-favorite Griffin Loughran to keep weighing them down. Instead, this looks to be a more refined team in the sense that they are more composed.
Transition to their personnel we find a relative top heavy line up:
Out of their 92 points on the season, 64% of them come from just these five players. The Wildcats may appear to have a healthy offense when looking at their overall team numbers, but the truth is it is only skin deep. Once those five players are off the ice, their offensive threat plummets. Meanwhile in net, Potulny has seemingly tapped Dimatteo as the de-facto starter regardless of the opponent, getting his hand in all but one game this season in some shape or form. I would expect nothing less this weekend unless he gets yanked.
Our Huskies find themselves in a tough spot as a team right now. Statistically, they have been phenomenal this year defensively. They are one of the best (if not the best) defensive teams in the country with a PK% of 100 (1st), a save percentage of .940 (4th), and 8th in the country in shots allowed on goal at only 168. Goaltender Blake Pietila (4-3-0, 1.42 GAA, .940 SV%) is 5th in the country in goal against average and 8th in save percentage. He is on pace for an easy nomination for either a Mike Richter Award or perhaps even a Hobey Baker award.
Sadly, while the Huskies are more than fine on the defensive side of the ice, they are starting to show a lack of offensive potential. Game one against the Lakers could have easily been a 4-0 lead with the Huskies managing 15 shots to the Lakers’ four. However, they were not able to produce more than one goal. Later on in game, one we would see some defensive lapses that would eventually lead to the Huskies’ demise. In his post game interview, coach Shawhan took full responsibility, giving a bit of insight on how systems and things like faceoffs can be the key decider in a game. Given that the Huskies out shot the Lakers 44-21, these more nuanced points can show just how important other aspects are.
Game two saw a great improvement, with the Huskies taking a 2-0 victory on two power play goals, but still left a relatively bad taste in your mouth when looking at 5 on 5 offensive play. The Huskies are playing well and earning their keep, but the offense just doesn’t seem to be showing up as of late. This doesn’t appear to be the fault of any one player or line, the shots are there for Tech and the quality chances are there too. It looks to only be a matter of time until they start capitalizing on them.
Keys to the Game
- Special Teams. Special teams is always a running theme when it comes to a “Keys to the Game” section. It has always sounded like a broken record, but it is a very important point, and this series is no exception. The Wildcats are a good offensive team that will take advantage of any and all power play time they get. It would be great to predict that there will be no penalties in the series, but that is just not going to happen in a rivalry like this.
- Top Heavy vs. Balance. The Wildcats are a top heavy team while the Huskies are on the completely opposite end of the spectrum. They are a four-line, three-pairing team and the differences should show this weekend.
- Cooler heads prevail. The Huskies have been very good when it comes to giving up what some one say are “dumb penalties.” So far this season, I can only point to a few instances of this happening. Tensions did run high against the Lakers and that looked to be a precursor to this weekend against the Wildcats. The only thing Tech needs to be careful about is to not do anything dumb and not get hurt.
The Wildcats are quite frankly due for a win against the Huskies. Tech is currently on an eight game winning streak against NMU and it would be a safe call to predict a split. However, given that the team dynamics of offense first Northern and defense first Tech I don’t expect the results to change anytime soon. As long as the Huskies keep up their current play style I expect two wins though they will probably be more stress inducing than they should be. MTU wins 4-2, MTU wins 4-1.
Cover photo courtesy Michigan Tech Athletics.
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 7:07 Est and game 2 will be Saturday at 6:37 Est.
*Flohockey.tv is also the source of all games played in CCHA 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.