The Michigan Tech Huskies (2-2-1, 2-2-1 (0-0) Pairwise) are in the second week of their homestand as they host the St. Lawrence Saints (3-2-0, 3-2-0 (0-0) Pairwise) in just their 13th & 14th match ups in program history. St. Lawrence find themselves in Houghton for the first time since the 2010-2011 season while coming off a sweep of Colorado College (2-4-0, 2-4-0 (0-0) Pairwise) two weeks ago.
The Saints are in a state of flux as they battle it out in the relatively competitive ECAC conference. They are a mix of both upper and lower classmen and have been following Tech’s suit of scoring by committee. This can be seen in their leading scorers:
This biggest trend is just how much they are like Tech in that regard, 11 different players have two or more points. However, it needs to be noted that in their five games played they have not been able to generate all that much offense with the exception of their series against the very weak Colorado College team. The Saints might score like the Huskies, but they play in a weaker conference than the CCHA and have faced a slate of easier teams playing going into this weekend. With the exception of UMass-Lowell (4-2-0, 4-2-0 (0-0) Pairwise), St. Lawrence hasn’t played the hardest teams. Colorado College, Merrimack (3-2-0, 3-2-0 (0-0) Pairwise), and New Hampshire (3-3-0, 2-3-0 (1-0) Pairwise) aren’t the heavy weights of the NCAA, with Merrimack and UNH bringing up the bottom of a regressing Hockey East.
That’s not to say that the Saints won’t be a tough opponent this weekend, but I would recommend taking the approach that we expected with the Nanooks, who gave up a lot of scoring chances to our Huskies while having offensive difficulties. St. Lawrence will be more defensively sound than the Nanooks, having played worse teams and only match Tech’s 2.6 goals per game they look to have significantly less offense. Looking at their previous games against Colorado College we see:
The Saints were able to generate a lot of net front presence, while Colorado College did their best Michigan Tech impression in their games against the Bulldogs and the USNTDP by taking too many shots from the point. As a result, St. Lawrence was able to take full advantage and run up the score.
Our Huskies, on the other hand, had a rough weekend against the Bemidji State Beavers. Tech rolled the dice last weekend in only dressing five defensemen and having forward Alex Nordstrom play back in game one. They would lose this bet, with Brett Thorne getting injured after only 4 minutes of on ice time. This left the Huskies having to adjust while holding a two goal lead on the back of Blake Pietila. They moved Jake Crespi back to defense resulting with only four true defensemen to cover six skaters’ worth of shifts. Game two saw a similar situation with only five true defensemen dressed and Crespi staying back.
Now this isn’t to say Crespi didn’t play well in his foray into the world of a defensemen, but it is a bit worrying. Coach Shawhan didn’t dress freshman Evan Orr on Friday, or freshman Frank Dovorany either night. The Huskies opting to dress two different forwards on the weekend to play defense while marking two career (albeit freshmen) defensemen as healthy scratches leads to the uncomfortable implication that the coaching staff lacks faith in their abilities to perform.
However, there is a bright side to the team’s lineup choices. This Huskies coaching staff has been super careful regarding injury with players. Thorne was originally hurt in a practice and the coaching staff waited for him to be cleared by medical staff and still even rested him afterwards. Same goes for Jed Pietila, who suffered a concussion against the USNTDP and was cleared to play before Shawhan noticed something wasn’t right and opted to keep him out of the lineup. It was later disclosed in the Joe Shawhan Hour that he has an additional lower body injury. So even though the staff may be making questionable choices on who is dressed for games, they are making sure players are safe, which is most important.
Looking at the Huskies’ shot maps for last weekend we find:
Game one saw the Huskies take an early two goal lead, then start to collapse when Thorne was hurt resulting Crespi dropping back to defense. This resulted in Tech playing on their heels for the remainder of the game, relying heavily on Blake Pietila too much without giving enough defensive support. Blake was up to the task for much of the second period, but the floodgates came open in the third period. This was due to several factors including defensive fatigue and number of high danger shots.
Game two was a different story, with shots being hard to come and with that, goals. The Beavers managed to get two on very bad Tech giveaways while playing their patented Tom Serratore “grind the game to a halt” style CCHA fans are well aware of. However, things began to change as the Huskies would get two late-game power plays and finally break the nascent scoreless streak. Kyle Kukkonen would finally get the proverbial monkey off his back, netting both power play goals. Time will tell but hopefully this is just the beginning of his potential production.
Keys to the Game
- Foot on the gas. The Saints don’t seem to be the most defensively sound team given who they’ve played and how many goals they’ve given up. Tech is most likely better offensively than Colorado College and Merrimack, so I would expect them to be capable of putting up more than one goal per game.
- Shore up the fort. However, the Huskies are between a rock and hard place when it comes to their defense. Jake Crespi is a serviceable stop gap, but they need to have that extra skater be a defenseman. Whether it be Frank Dovornay listed as the extra skater with Crespi playing back or vice versa, they need that insurance policy.
- Back to basics. Tech was very sloppy last weekend., showing bad turnovers, poor defensive positioning and just a general inability to cleanly enter into the offensive zone. Yes Bemidji has a more veteran defense and yes they are guaranteed to be a tougher team than St. Lawrence, but Tech needs to fix this aspect of their game to ensure future success.
This would be Tech’s series to lose if the team was fully healthy. But with veterans Thorne, J. Pietila and Jankowski all out due to injury, this Huskies’ team will be even younger and less predictable. I am still willing to bet that the Huskies will sweep due to their better offense and goaltending, but for the first time since I’ve been covering them for the media I am legitimately worried about their defense. As we saw this past weekend, Blake Pietila can put the team on his back, but he can only do so much on his own. Give the Saints 40+ shots and a few are bound to hit the back of the net. MTU wins 4-1, MTU wins 3-1.
The guys on our Chasing MacNaughton Podcast also made predictions for this coming series against the Tommies. Season Four Episode Six’s liner notes can be found here.
Cover photo courtesy Michigan Tech Athletics.
InStat plots created by Zach Aufdemberge
How to Watch
Tuesday’s games are available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (free), via flohockey.tv* (paywall) for video. Friday’s game is at 7:07 EST with Saturday’s game being 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.
Jonathan graduated from Michigan Tech in the spring of 2018 with a degree in Physics and Social Science in addition to a minor in Social and Behavioral Studies. He spent his college career watching hockey with the Misfits where he became the treasurer in his last year. When not traveling to away games he resides in Hancock working for a local engineering company and keeping up with all things Tech Hockey.