Who are these guys, anyway? The Huskies, I mean (of course).
Tech has now played three exhibition games and seven “real” games. They won two exhibition games convincingly and are 4-2-1 in the other games. What have we seen? And what does the Old Dog think this team might turn into?
On the Road Again
It’s been over a month since the Old Dog had a chance to lean into writing about Them Dogs, when my travels started in Northern Michigan. Mrs. Dog and I spent two long days packing and prepping the Summer Dog House for the rigors of winter above the 45th parallel. Then we drove to Ann Arbor and spent two days at the University of Michigan Homecoming celebration. It began with dinner in A-Squared, followed the next morning with the incomparable Ross School of Business Homecoming Tailgate. Later, we headed to the Big House and watched Michigan beat Maryland.
Next morning, it was off to Cleveland to visit my daughter Bright Dog, our son-in-law ArtDog, and our grandson, Da Puppo. Da Puppo is about two and half now, and Mrs. Dog has made sure he has some Husky swag amid Bright Dog’s onslaught of Wolverines’ garb. (ArtDog is a talented graphic artist, and he’s the newest character in these Old Dog stories.)
Next day, we drove to Jackson, Tennessee and one day later we were finally back in Texas — and now had to unpack and do all of the things needed to re-open the Dog House there. I’d barely finished when I started packing for the next trip, a two-week sojourn to New Delhi, India to work with a client on a manufacturing project.
After two weeks of 10-12 hour days and an exhausting flight back, I was just about recovered from jet lag when I flew to Massachusetts to work with Boston Dynamics, home of Spot The Dancing Dog. Spot was the focus of this gig and its standard colors are Black and Yellow, almost Gold, so I’ve come to think of it as a Husky, of course! Finally, I got home in time to watch the second game of the St. Lawrence series with Mrs. Dog in Texas.
Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Yada Yada Yada
Oh, yeah, about the Huskies. Throughout this odyssey, I was able to watch nearly all of Tech’s games somehow, via the magic of the web, except for the exhibition against the USA National Team Development Program team. And to be honest, I’m not sure what this team’s identity is now or what it might become.
They’ve had games where they potted a ton of goals and games where they struggled to score. While there’s a core lineup that hasn’t changed much, I don’t think the Huskies have had the same players on the lineup card twice yet. Some of that has been due to injuries and some if it is a result of trying to figure out where all of the newcomers on the roster might fit in.
The first line of Ryland Mosley, Logan Pietila and freshman Kyle Kukkonen has been money. They rarely punch in and punch out without getting a good scoring opportunity and have, for the most part, been reliable back checkers as well. They’ve racked up nine goals and thirteen assists in the games that count and are a combined plus-minus of +17. Parker Saretsky, one of the players I suggested would need to step up in my pre-season assessment, has three goals and four assists and is +5. Nick Nardella has also been solid with +3 and five assists.
The other forwards have been good most of the time, although there have been shifts where they struggled to get the puck out of the defensive end, and some of those ended up in Tech’s net.
The defense has been inconsistent at times and, in games against Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) foes (only the two Bemidji State games were league games; the Ferris State game was non-league), they’ve shown cracks when the opposing squad applied intensive forechecking.
Since the forechecking in the CCHA is always forceful, this is something to be concerned about.
Chris Lipe has been consistently good, and is showing some offensive flair, again as I suggested Tech needs. Trevor Russell has been better than he was last year as a true freshman (he’s +5 and has a goal to boot). Transfer Ryan O’Connell has been as reliable as Jacobsville Sandstone after four years playing in the Big Ten. Finnish freshman Topi Heiskanen has been a pleasant surprise as well, although he’s -3 at this point as he adjusts to the smaller rink size here in North America.
Far and away the biggest issue on defense has been injuries. And that’s affected the performance of the forwards as well.
Goaltending has, with only a couple of minor lapses, been outstanding. Blake Pietila continues to rack up shutouts and freshman Max Vayrynen was solid in his outing against Bemidji. These guys just have to continue what they are doing, and Husky Nation won’t be pulling out any hair over weak play in the crease.
About the Injuries
This team needs all of their best players in the lineup every night to reach its full potential. Yes, there will be space to work in depth players on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean that four or five spots on the roster card should be rotating every night. On offense, grad transfer David Jankowski has missed six games with a rib injury. He would have been a steadying influence on the offense when the pressure got intense, and that’s been missing.
But the defensive corps has really been hit by lost-time injuries. Brett Thorne has missed three games and part of another, Jed Pietila has missed four. Jake Crespi and Alex Nordstrom — nominally forwards with no real experience on the blue line — have been pressed into service to fill these holes. Crespi really showed what a force he could be in that role in the sweep against St. Lawrence, and Nordstrom did yeoman work in that role when called on. Still, both of these players are not as instinctive as they need to be at this point, and, as we see regularly, mistakes in your own end turn into quality scoring chances more often than not.
If Thorne and Jed Pietila can stay in the lineup, and Crespi can continue to grow, the Huskies could have a spectacular septet backing up a forward lineup that is dynamic and showing signs of becoming explosive.
What’s Coming at the Huskies
So far, Tech has swept two reasonably good teams in non-conference play and had posted a 17-2 goal differential while doing that. The teams Tech swept aren’t chopped liver. Alaska hasn’t been an easy out this year, and just finished a split against Northern Michigan. St. Lawrence has a sweep of Colorado College on their ledger, as well as a win against Merrimack (who split with UMass this past weekend and probably should have swept the highly rated Minutemen).
While the sample size is small, games against CCHA foes have been a different story. It’s been much harder to score, the Huskies have spent more time scrambling in their own end, and that pattern is likely to be on the menu for Them Dogs for most of the rest of this season.
With a road series at Bowling Green next week, followed by two home games against Lake State, then two at St. Thomas in the Twin Cities (and the Tommies are for real this year) and finally at home against the big bad Purple Cows from Mankato, we’ll find out how good this team might be when the November schedule is done.
The Old Dog is more optimistic than I was before the season started, but, in the CCHA, a good team will be challenged every time the puck drops. A good team will rise up when challenged, a pretender will slump. On to Ohio!