The Michigan Tech Huskies (21-11-3, 17-5-3 (2-6) Pairwise) have made it to their respective conference’s semifinals for the first time since the 2019-2020 Covid canceled season. They host the Bemidji State Beavers (18-19-0, 16-18-0 (2-1) Pairwise) in a one-and-done game. The Beavers find themselves on the road after winning game three against the 6th seeded Bowling Green Falcons, ending their season.
The Beavers managed to curb their downward spiral for the most part since they last played the Huskies January 29th. They have gone 5-4 over their last nine games managing to hold on the 3rd place in the standings by the skin of their teeth, holding a one win lead in points over the Lakers. Their last nine games are as follows:
Again, we see that Tech is most similar to Minnesota State while Bowling Green falls between Tech and Northern in teams that BSU has played. This Beaver team has been seeing better results due to their goaltending starting to make a comeback under the play of Mattias Sholl, who has been playing well going into this weekend. He joins the preverbal big three in the Sillinger brothers and Alex Ierullo on BSU’s top line:
Those three forwards make up a large majority of BSU’s offense and as a result this will be the same top heavy team that the Huskies played in January with Sholl being seeing improvement in net. However, there is a catch to this in that the defense of the Huskies are much better than what is found against the likes of NMU, UST, and BSU. I would expect the Huskies to keep the Beavers within 1-2 goals pending something crazy happening.
BSU’s shot charts from InStat are as follows:
As seen above both teams did a relatively well job driving the net and getting high danger chances. It will be imperative that the Huskies find a way to limit this aspect of BSU’s game so that they have a shot at playing in the championship game.
Transitioning to our Huskies, their series against the Bulldogs showed what happens when Tech’s top line gets contained. The line of Parrottino-Bliss-Halonen combined for one goal and two assists on the weekend. Parrottino potted a lucky flip-shot over the FSU netminder and Bliss managed two assists, both in game one. Surprisingly, Brian Halonen was more or less nonexistent all weekend. The Bulldogs were able to repeat their Big Rapids performance here in the copper country, showing just how little something like home ice mattered in the Huskies previous series against the Bulldogs.
Tech’s inability to get high danger chances to go in is found in our InStat data shown below:
The prior weekend against the Bulldogs was a mix of a lot of circumstances for the Huskies. First was the lack of top end scoring from the 1st line. This caused Tech to have to find other methods of scoring within their depth. Next was a decent amount of puck luck for the Bulldogs on both ends of the ice. The Huskies had a much better than recent percentage of high-danger shots in the “hard ice”, but at times it felt like Tech couldn’t buy a goal, much less score one. Additionally, the Bulldogs got very lucky on a goal or two from either a luck bounce or deflection.
The third and final item is more obvious in game two due to volume of shots, but Tech needs to stop taking shots from the blue line without a screen in front. Both game one and two show a peppering of black dots around the blue line. If you look closer you’ll notice the size of those dots are very small relative to the shots in the “hard ice” zone. Tech needs to hold on to the puck in these situations and try for better ones. As a result of those low chance shots, the Huskies shot 6.25% in game one and 5.45% in game two for a combined shooting percentage of 5.83%. This is just unacceptable for a team ranked 10th in pairwise and needs to change either by taking more high danger chances or by trying to screen and/or get deflections.
Finally, there is one big issue going into Saturday’s and that is the loss of players. First, there is Alec Broetzman. He took an injury in game two against Minnesota State resulting in a broken thumb. He is most likely done for the season, though there might be a chance of his return for a national tournament game if it’s late enough in the month or March or beginning of April. Second is the loss of Tyrell Buckley, due to what looked like a textbook AC joint (shoulder) injury. The degree of the severity is unknown, but in this week’s episode of the John Shawhan Hour, Shawhan stated that he is very unlikely to be available for Saturday’s game. Depending on what injury it is (i.e. separation, sprain, etc.), Buckley may be available in the next game the Huskies play after this one. However, this leaves a big hole in the D corps.
In my eyes, the front runner would most likely be freshman Trevor Russell to get the call to step up. Also in the running would be junior Brenden Datema and freshman Grant Docter. My best guess would be a transition back to having 7 defensemen using the extra skater slot which would then result in a forward dropping from the line up. If this were the case, I would see a Russell-Datema combination switching every other shift with mostly Nardella dropping from the forward side of the line up sheet. Given the recent play from Crespi, Bronte, Mosley, and Saretsky, Nardella appears to be on the outside looking in after only longing 7 mins and 23 seconds of ice time in a game that went into double overtime.
Only time will give us the answer to who fills Buckley’s slot but needless to say it will be a tough choice.
Keys to the Game
- Shut ’Em Down. This is going to be a big game for the Huskies D corps. They are 99.9% predicted to make the national tournament and as a result will have at least one other game to play after this Saturday. The Beavers on the other hand don’t have this luxury and will be playing like this game is the last of their season. If the Huskies defense can’t stop BSU’s big three, there’s going to be trouble in the Mac.
- Drive the Hard Ice. Tech will need to continually push Sholl in net. Shots from the point unscreened aren’t going to cut it. He is a better goalie then what Tech saw from Stein and Giesbrecht and will need better shots, not more of them.
- Warm-Up for What’s to Come. This is going to be the first of hopefully many one game elimination games for the Huskies this season. Luckily for Tech it takes the form of stepping up from easy to hard opponents with the exception of possibly playing Mankato in the CCHA championship. The Huskies should use this game as valuable experience going into the more important games later down the road.
I think that Tech is the favorite to win the game but their top line needs to show up. Due to the team make up of BSU the Huskies can not rely on depth scoring in the same way they did against FSU it just will not work. Finally this series is also going to hinge on whether or not Sholl shows up for the Beavers. MTU wins 3-2.
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 flohockey.tv* (paywall) for video. The best of one game will be Saturday at 6:07 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.