Michigan Tech’s loss to Minnesota Duluth in the first round of the NCAA Tournament concluded the Huskies’ season and completed the run of a great senior class. It was also the first step for other teams to qualify for the Frozen Four final in Boston in two weeks.
The Huskies Play Well Again and Still Lose
The game against Minnesota-Duluth was, unfortunately for Tech, very similar to the other losses they’ve suffered in this past season. The Bulldogs scored both of their goals on Husky turnovers in their own zone. One was deflected off a Tech defender, the other was a pure giveaway right in front of the goal. The final goal in the 3-0 UMD victory went into an empty net.
MTU outshot Duluth 28-25 and had numerous Grade-A chances, but couldn’t get one past Bulldog goalie Ryan Fanti, a National Collegiate Hockey Conference first team all-star. Tech played without co-captain Alec Broetzman and defensive stalwart Tyrell Buckley, who were both injured, and lost Hobey Baker finalist (and now part of the New Jersey Devils organization) Brian Halonen to a major penalty and game misconduct in the early part of the first period.
In the overall game flow, Tech had the better play for at least 40 minutes in the contest, but UMD’s smothering defensive play and Fanti’s heroics kept Them Dogs from getting on the scoreboard. There was no shortage of effort, and the Huskies never gave up — but it just wasn’t enough.
Aside from the injuries, we’ve seen that same pattern prevail again and again over the course of this past season. Plenty of offensive pressure without much scoring mixed with key turnovers often led to losses to top-tier teams. That kind of play wasn’t fatal when playing lesser teams, but the difference between winning and losing these days in college hockey is usually very small.
The Frozen Four And Conference Tournament Records
When the NCAA Regionals were concluded Sunday evening, four teams remained and will advance to the Frozen Four Championship in Boston April 7-9. Michigan will square off against Denver in one semi-final, and Minnesota State will drop the puck against Minnesota in the other game on Thursday. The winners will meet on Saturday, with all the games carried nationally on ESPN2.
There were a lot of great games in the regionals — almost all of them were close both in terms of score and the way the games were played. But it’s always interesting to see which conferences fared the best in these games, and the Big Ten has emerged as the clear leader to this point.
The self-styled “B1G” not only has two teams in the Frozen Four, but also won 5 of the 6 games their teams played. The CCHA was 2-1 on the strength of Minnesota State’s two victories. The big bad NCHC, with five teams in the tournament, broke even with a 4-4 record. The East Coast Athletic Conference posted a 1-2 record, while Atlantic Hockey (0-1) and Hockey East (0-3) did not win a game.
Without question, the power this year is all in the west. Eastern teams won only one game, and that was a nail biter that Quinnipiac took from St. Cloud State.
Still A Great Season for Tech
Despite the disappointment Husky Nation felt after the tournament loss, we all need to step back and recognize this past campaign as one of the better seasons in Michigan Tech’s long and sometimes glorious history. MTU finished the season with a 21-13-3 record, which was marked by 13 — count ‘em — 13 overtime games. In those overtime games, particularly the three-on-three games that were the norm except in the playoffs, they struggled. In overtime, MTU lost six times while winning four (all against St. Thomas and Ferris State), getting two shootout wins (again, against UST and FSU), and one final tie.
They also garnered a second place finish in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, a spot they haven’t seen since 2014-15 in the old Western Collegiate Hockey Association. It was coach Joe Shawhan’s third 20 win season in his five years as the head man, and the Huskies’ fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last eight years. In addition, there were many great individual accomplishments this season, and that will be our topic next week when we hand out the Old Dog Awards.
At the end of each season, there’s really only one team that finishes totally satisfied. All the rest either lose their final game in the NCAA Tournament or don’t even get to that point. The Huskies can hold their heads high after the way this year finally ended, and Husky Nation will fondly remember this team in the future.