Alright Huskies fans, after four long years the Michigan Tech Huskies have made it to the national stage once again. They find themselves in Loveland, Colorado as the 3rd seed facing off against the 2nd seed Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. The Bulldogs managed to sweep their way through the NCHC tournament, winning it all.
The Huskies find themselves in a tough spot this week as the Bulldogs have found themselves to be on a roll, winning their last four games with two of said games in the single-game elimination format. This season has had ups and downs for this UMD team. They entered in the the NCHC tournament at 17-15-4, with CHN putting them at a 10% chance at making the national tournament due to the requirement for a team to be at .500 or better to receive an at-large bid.
This left the Bulldogs in a do-or-die situation and they managed to take full advantage, going on a massive run to sweep St. Cloud State and beat two very good teams in Denver and Western Michigan. This trend of being on-again-off-again has been the story of Duluth’s season. They started off strong going 11-3 with one shootout win in the first two months of the season. However, things started trending downward, going 6-13 with one shootout wins and two shootout losses from December to February. Luckily, the Bulldogs were able to turn it on going 5-1 in March on their way to the national tournament.
Duluth has a strong top 6 but with no real #1 top line as all six forwards range from 22-28 points:
The real power of this Bulldog team lies in their goaltending and defense. Ryan Fanti has been on the same level as Blake Pietila all season and most of the team’s losing streaks have been without Fanti between the pipes. The key to getting the advantage of this Bulldogs team will be to keep their scoring chances low.
We can take a look at our InStat data on the NCHC playoff games the Bulldogs have played:
As seen from the shot charts above, the Bulldogs score most of their goals from the “hard ice” as Coach Shawns calls it. Looking at their recent goals, most if not all their scoring come off of their transition and through the use of odd angle deflections. The Huskies have been pretty good and limiting those chances this season but this UMD team is a very hard working team with most of their success coming from positioning and pressure rather than skill.
Moving to our Huskies we saw a poor performance two weeks ago against the Beavers where they weren’t able to contain their top line. Additionally, the defensive corps had a breakdown not seen all season. Karow, who has been one of the best defensive defenseman in all of the NCAA, had a particularly bad turnover that resulted in a goal as well. Maybe this was a one-off performance from the Huskies D-men, or it could be a sign of what’s to come with the loss of Buckley.
The other story line has been the decline of the Huskies’ top line performance since their game against the Minnesota State Mavericks the Huskies forward Brian Halonen hasn’t been able to make the score sheet while linemates Bliss and Parrontino have done their best to pick up the slack. This was most evident against the Ferris State Bulldogs where depth scoring was the key to victory against a team that had no business staying in those games. Sadly, Bliss and Parrontino weren’t enough alone to beat the Beavers, managing two goals while the depth scoring was non-existent in addition to Halonen being held pointless too.
All that being said, there is a bright side to this Huskies team. They do lead the Bulldogs in all forms of stats:
Purely on paper the Huskies should be the favorites, but in practice as of late they have not performed up to pair. Hopefully Coach Shawhan will be able to coax some goals out of this Huskies offense.
Finally our InStat plot for Tech’s game against BSU looks like:
As seen, the Huskies had plenty of high danger chances, but simply not have the puck needed to beat Sholl, who had been on a hot streak through the CCHA playoffs. Hopefully they can make their own luck this Thursday.
Keys to the Game
- Crash the Net. The Huskies have been playing better interims of high danger but they need to keep this trend going forward if they want a chance to play this Saturday.
- Pressure. The Bulldogs are a highly transition based team as a result they are able to turn a game on its head very quickly. If Tech can keep UMD hemmed in they should be able to stifle their offensive chances.
- In for the long haul. This is the beginning of the end for the Huskies and they are going to have to play with the desperation needed to keep their season alive. If they can make it in Loveland they should be able to make it in Boston.
On paper this is the Huskies’ game to lose, but in reality Tech is currently not the favorites. Only time will tell if they can prove everyone wrong. Though I might have chosen Tech to win in my bracket but if they continue to play the way they have, they are not going to win this. UMD wins 3-1.
Cover photo courtesy Michigan Tech Athletics.
InStat plots created by Zach Aufdemberge
How to Watch
All games are available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (free), and via ESPNU (paywall) for video. The best of one game will be Thursday at 3:00 EST.