Joe Shawhan called it the Huskies’ “best all-around performance of the year” after Michigan Tech completed a weekend sweep of the Bemidji State Beavers in Houghton on Saturday. After posting a 5-2 win Friday, Tech matched that with an identical 5-2 score the next night.
It was an impressive display of what Husky Nation has been expecting to see from this team since the start of the season.
Upon return from the holiday break, Tech took both games in Sault Ste. Marie against Lake Superior State — again by identical scores but this time two 3-0 shutout gems. After COVID problems for Northern Michigan caused the cancellation of the home-and-home series with the Wildcats, the Huskies returned to the MacInnes to face the Beavers, who’ve been in second place in the CCHA much of the season and had a five point lead over MTU.
The Old Dog feared the worst, as the Beavers have been a real power on the road (7-1 away from home this season) coming into the series. Moreover, BSU has had Tech’s number for the past few years, winning repeatedly even though the Huskies dictated the play in these contests. Add in the fact that Tech had not played in two weeks and has exhibited a maddening tendency to play down to the pace of the game no matter who the opponent was and it wasn’t hard to have misgivings about this series.
After a split on Bemidji’s ice in mid-October in mirror-image 4-3 games, Tech now has won the season series against the Beavers. In addition, the six points they earned put Tech in second place, one point ahead of BSU with four games in hand.
The best thing about these games — as well as the games against Lake State — is that the Huskies have put together four straight games where they have played hard for 60 minutes. That’s something this team just hasn’t been able to do on a regular basis. I didn’t see any instances of Huskies looking for just a little “cheat” that might make their name more prominent on the score sheet, or anyone dogging it (forgive me for that) at the end of a shift. There was near-desperate effort by the entire lineup from the opening puck drop until the final buzzer in all of these games.
Andrew Grove, the executive who, along with Gordon Moore (of “Moore’s Law” fame), built Intel into a huge company in a crazy competitive environment often said, “Only the Paranoid Survive.” Grove’s book with that title can be an inspiration to any DI hockey team, because any team that turns in a poor shift or two can lose a game that, on paper, they should win.
You have to hate to lose. And you have to have a burning desire to win, and those two things are not exactly the same. There can’t be any letup in that mental approach to each and every game. We are seeing that from this team for the first time this past month. Beyond that boundary lies big-time success.
Plenty of Stars
One measure of that intensity was the difficulty that Dirk Hembroff and his side men (Phil Pietila on Friday and Brent Petersen on Saturday) had picking three stars in the Bemidji games. While Lukas Sillinger was great for the Beavers (three goals in the series) and with the Huskies scoring ten times, Justin Misiak was the third star in both games even though he didn’t register a single point.
Oh, and just for those who missed it, Misiak set an all-time Husky record by completing his 167th game for Tech. He’s like the Energizer Bunny on the ice; he never stops moving, always at a manic pace but with purpose. You can almost see his hockey persona rubbing off on the younger players.
Michael Karow, the graduate transfer from Boston University, has become Tech’s defensive linchpin. I like to think of him as the Secretary of Defense. And that shouldn’t detract from the type of hockey that the other five defensemen are displaying either. This sextet — Karow, Colin Swoyer, Tyrell Buckley, Eric Gotz, Chris Lipe and Brett Thorne — is almost worth an Old Dog column. It’s the best defense Tech has had since 2016-17, when Cliff Watson, Matt Roy, Dane Birks, Chris Leibinger, Mark Auk and Shane Hanna led the team to the NCAA tournament.
In my pre-season assessments of the Huskies, I suggested that Tech’s depth might be their greatest strength. That is starting to show. Logan Ganie, who had only appeared in six games before this series, got a goal each night. Like Ganie, Nick Nardella (who has also been in and out of the lineup) and grit-meister Ryland Mosley assisted on both these goals.
Tommy Parrottino broke out of a dry spell with three assists on Friday and a goal on Saturday. Brian (The Beast) Halonen had two goals Friday and an assist on Saturday. Perhaps most significantly, co-captain Alec Broetzman slammed in two huge goals including the game winner on Saturday. Broetzman missed a few games earlier in the season with “illness,” and you can read between the lines for that one, although nothing official was ever said about it. It’s taken him a bit of time to get back to his proven level of performance, and Saturday may have been his bounce back coming-out-party.
Three strong defensive pairs and four lines that never let up is a formula that can go a long way in hockey at any level. Oh, and Blake Pietila was almost unreal in goal on Friday, and played very reliably on Saturday. It’s easy to take his play for granted, but his 1.82 goals against slate and .921 save percentage are anything but average.
Can This Continue?
The Old Dog has already had his say about the coming game on Tuesday against Northern Michigan. NMU’s return on home ice after the cancellation was a bit rough — they suffered a 6-1 loss to Lake State on Friday but rebounded to beat the Lakers 2-1 in overtime on Saturday. I don’t know if COVID had anything to do with that, but Tech can’t afford to let down because these games are never easy.
Tenacity, a fiery determination, consistency and a stiff shot of paranoia are in order. Dogs and Cats. Up next.