After winning their seventh straight Central Collegiate Hockey Association game Tuesday, another dominant 5-1 home ice win, this time against Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech heads into the home stretch with a sled full of momentum. The Huskies are, without question, playing their best hockey right now as the final month of the regular season starts.
Whipping the Cats
Tuesday at the JMac looked a lot like last Friday and Saturday on the same rink when Tech swept Bemidji State by identical 5-2 scores. The defense was outstanding and the offense was occasionally explosive. Mix in continued powerplay prowess (now second in Division I with a success rate of almost 29%) and you have a going-away victory in which the Huskies never trailed.
NMU was without two of their best offensive players, though. Joe Nardi, the captain and heart of the Cats offense, is out for the season with an injury. Hank Crone, 4th in the nation in scoring, was also absent from the lineup — but no reason was disclosed. And goalie Rico DiMatteo, NMU’s starter in 22 of 26 games this season, didn’t even make the trip from Marquette.
DiMatteo’s replacement, Charlie Glockner, was very sharp, stopping 44 of 49 Husky shots. But Tech was relentless, controlling play for much of the game. Two first period goals by Tommy Parrottino gave MTU the lead and they never gave it back, scoring three times after NMU tallied one in the second period.
Other than a mistake which led to the Wildcats only goal, the defensive play was stifling. Even when Northern was able to get control in the Huskies’ end, they had a hard time getting the puck out of the corners or away from the boards to set up their favored slot and point shots.
Trenton Bliss had four points (three assists and a powerplay goal), and Brian Halonen scored on a rocket shot from the wing while Logan Pietila got the remaining goal on a beautiful set up from Brett Thorne.
The last ten minutes of the game were marred by some ugly stuff from NMU, including a vicious, deliberate and cowardly no-call slash or spear from behind right into the groin of Justin Misiak, as well as a major penalty and game misconduct for grabbing the face mask.
Countdown to Ecstasy or Highway to Hell?
With just one month left in the regular season, it’s not too early for the Old Dog to contemplate how things might unfold. After winning Tuesday, the Huskies are seventh in the national pairwise standings and second in the CCHA with 38 points. That’s four points ahead of Bemidji State and 12 points behind Minnesota State.
However, Tech has nine games left, all in the CCHA, and the Mavericks have six remaining on their schedule. Both of those totals include a final weekend showdown in Houghton when those two teams wrap up the regular season with a two game series.
Of course, there are a huge number of ways all of this could unfold. Tech could crumble and lose home ice for the CCHA playoffs, although I think that’s the most far-out possibility, and one that the Old Dog won’t waste time considering. That’s the AC-DC path.
The other trail leads to the MacNaughton Cup — the Steely Dan trip. But that will take a lot of winning. In fact, it may well require the Huskies to run their current streak to 16 straight wins in the conference. What are the major issues in that possible route?
The Mavericks have a big lead and just six games remaining, two each with Bowling Green (on the road), Bemidji State (in Mankato) and the Huskies (in Houghton). They could win all six and no one would be surprised. But they could stumble, too — coach Mike Hastings and the #1 scorer in DI, Nathan Smith, are on their way to Beijing for the Olympics.
Neither the Beavers or Falcons are chopped liver; Bowling Green is particularly tough at home where the environment is very hostile to visiting teams.
On the other side, Tech has nine games left. That includes two with St. Thomas on the road, next Tuesday’s make up game against NMU in Marquette, a Winter Carnival series with Bowling Green and two against surging Ferris State on that crazy, weird rink the Bulldogs call home. Then comes the finale with the Mavericks.
While any number of combinations can result from these games, here’s the one that’s most appealing to the Old Dog. MSU and MTU both win their remaining games — no overtime point splits — setting up a huge showdown for the MacNaughton Cup, played in the Cup’s hometown.
That series would start with the Mavericks with 62 points and the then white-hot Huskies would have 59 points. If the Mavs win either of the two games in regulation, they are the first champions of the new CCHA. On the other hand (or paw?) Tech can make it extremely interesting by winning on Friday. Then, on Saturday night, here would be the possibilities:
- Tech wins on Saturday, sweeps the series and finishes with 65 points to the Mavs’ 62.
- Tech wins in overtime on Saturday, finishes with 64 points; Mankato ends up with 63.
- MSU wins in overtime, finishes with 64 points and Tech, heartbreakingly, gets 63.
That same scenario could play out if MSU and Tech both lose equivalent points in the games leading up to the end-of-season climax. It might be very hard to watch that final game if the second or third possibilities come to pass.
Don’t Look Back — Or Ahead
Satchel Paige, the Hall of Fame pitcher who toiled in the Negro leagues during segregation and eventually played in the Major Leagues starting at age 42, used to say “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” The same principle applies to the future for the Huskies — don’t look there, either — you might lose your way.
This coming weekend, Tech heads to St. Thomas. While the Tommies have taken a beating in their first season in Division I, they play hard and never give up. And Tech fans and the team simply cannot forget that UST stole a point from Tech in December by scoring two goals with a sixth attacker to tie the game and force the Huskies to win in overtime.
That one point Tech left on the table could be huge, as the scenario above suggests.
So, there can be no let up in this coming series. The Huskies have to play just they way they’ve been playing, with strong, smothering defense, responsible but aggressive offense and top-notch goaltending.
It’s been a while since every game mattered as much as the rest of this season does, so Husky fans will get a giant treat. But, as I’ve said before, just win, baby. Don’t bask in previous glory, don’t worry about anything other than the game being played. The other stuff will work itself out if you do.