The Huskies continued their march to the postseason, wrapping up this week’s slate with an 8-1 blasting of archrival Northern Michigan in a Tuesday game played in Marquette. The also struggled over the weekend against cellar-dweller St. Thomas, but still endured a determined effort by the Tommies and took 5 of 6 possible points in that series.
Whipping The Cats — Déjà vu All Over Again
Scoring 8 goals on 36 shots is unusual in college hockey these days, but Northern Michigan was terribly shorthanded for this game. Injuries had forced them to use their third string goalie who had almost no game experience this year, and even to add a non-roster goalie the day before the game just to have a backup on the bench. The Wildcats were also missing some of their best offensive talent, and NMU this season has employed their offensive prowess to relieve pressure on their defense. As coach Grant Potulny noted, “we’ve got nine guys in the stands,” meaning there were nine players who couldn’t dress for one reason or another.
The Old Dog, though, wants to give the Wildcats and Potulny full marks and respect for showing up and playing. Unlike a certain other team in Michigan, one located in Ann Arbor and coached by a Tech grad who shall not be named (oh, well, yes I will: Mel Pearson), there were no shenanigans about pretending that the “health and welfare” of the players was threatened by playing with a full complement of 18 skaters. And let the weasel-family team downstate know this — NMU had played games on Friday and Saturday and had little time to rest from that series as well.
Nor was there any deception from the NMU team about where things stood — not like the Wolverines, who then fibbed about the whole ‘cancelgate’ mess that marred the Great Lakes Invitational this year. The Wildcats took the ice and played with determination for the whole 60 minutes but just didn’t have the talent available to face up to the surging Huskies.
The win marked a number of milestones in Husky history. First, it broke the all-time series tie between NMU and Tech, with Tech taking the lead 77–76–13. It also marked MTU’s 10th straight win on the Olympic sized rink at Northern. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it was also the Huskies’ tenth straight win in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
Laboring In Mendota Heights
Unlike the game at NMU, which was never in doubt, the Huskies had a heckuva time against St. Thomas on Friday and Saturday in Minnesota. UST, led by coach Rico Blasi, who regularly took the Miami RedHawks to the NCAA tournament from 2004 to 2015, executed a resolute game plan that made life miserable for Them Dogs all weekend.
The Tommies were 100% committed to containing Tech’s speed and offense in both games. They clogged the middle, forced the puck to the boards at all times, and waited patiently for Tech to make a small mistake here or there.
On Friday, it almost gave UST a signature victory. Tech couldn’t do much at all in first period and only managed four shots on Tommy goalie Peter Thome. Worse, UST jumped to a 1-0 lead at the 2:37 mark of the second period. That seemed to shake up the Huskies, though, and Trenton Bliss tied the game less than 90 seconds later. Red-hot Tommy Parrottino, this weeks CCHA Forward of the Week, put Tech ahead with just 39 seconds left in the period — a period in which Tech outshot UST 21-3.
In the third stanza, Justin Misiak gave Tech the dreaded “two goal lead” less than two minutes in. However, just as the Tommies had done back in December, they fought back to tie the game and send it to overtime. This time, there was no resolution in overtime. The game became an NCAA tie — but the teams continued in a shootout to see who would get the extra CCHA point, a huge point for Tech.
Brian Halonen potted one during the initial three shooter round, which ended up in a (you guessed it) 1-1 tie. Finally, in the second sudden death round, Trenton Bliss made a slo-mo move to beat Thome and give the Huskies that needed point.
Saturday was more of the same, but Tech cleaned up their mistakes and played a much more disciplined and controlled game. And it paid off, as Parrottino scored early in the first period and Brett Thorne, on a great pass from Tristan Ashbrook, added a second goal early in the third period. This time, there were no giveaways, no Tommies left in the slot for hard-to-stop tip-in goals, and UST only managed 13 total shots on net, giving Blake Pietila his sixth shutout this season. That tied Pietila with current goaltender coach Jamie Phillips for the all-time MTU season record. The 2-0 win gave Tech five of six points on the weekend, although losing the lead on Friday left a bit of a sour taste for Husky Nation.
Where Things Stand Now
The Huskies are now solidly in second place in the CCHA with 46 points. That puts them ten behind national poll leader Minnesota State and nine ahead of third place Bemidji State. It also locks in home ice for at least the first round of the CCHA playoffs. Tech also has six games left, while the Mavericks and Beavers have just four.
The win also boosted the Huskies to the sixth spot in the critical national Pairwise Rankings which are used for NCAA tournament selections and seeding.
Where will it all end up? It’s hard to say, but to review the bidding, so to speak, the remaining schedule for the CCHA will certainly be interesting. Tech’s six games start at Winter Carnival this weekend, with two against fourth place Bowling Green. They then travel to Big Rapids to play Ferris State, and FSU has been playing very well lately. Then the big finale will be in Houghton, as Tech will face Minnesota State. MNSU’s other two remaining games are against in-state rival Bemidji State, and that’s not a guaranteed sweep for the Mavs.
If Tech sweeps Bowling Green and Ferris State, that final series would be for the CCHA championship. But if the Huskies lose one of these games leading to the last weekend of the regular season, that won’t happen.
Moreover, Tech is almost but not quite guaranteed to be in the top 12 in the Pairwise if they can go 3-3 in these final games. A top 12 slot nearly but not quite always means an NCAA tournament bid. It would be a terrible disappointment to miss the NCAA tournament this year, particularly for the Huskies current senior class which seemed marked for something special when they first took to the ice four years ago.
It’s a great time to follow the Huskies.
If all of this excites you, come back regularly to Tech Hockey Guide for the rest of this season. With the Chasing MacNaughton crew’s always entertaining weekly podcast, Jonathan Zamaites’ game previews — now with INSTAT data for all you statistical geeks — occasional special reports, and, of course, The Old Dog in Texas, there will be plenty to keep you entertained as MTU closes in on post-season thrills.