Our Michigan Tech Huskies (4-2-1, 4-2-1 (0-0) Pairwise) are on the road this week in
the worst state in the country Ohio to face off against a skidding Bowling Green Falcons (2-6-0, 2-4-0 (0-2) Pairwise) team. The Falcons are home after getting swept by a less impressive Minnesota State Mavericks (5-3-0, 4-3-0 (1-0) Pairwise) team than in years previous.
The Falcons were slated to be a top team in the CCHA going into this season, but have fallen short so far. They have had a pretty tough schedule in Northern Michigan (5-5-0, 4-5-1 (1-0) Pairwise), a better than expected Michigan State (4-3-1, 4-3-1 (0-0) Pairwise), and Western Michigan (5-4-0, 5-3-0 (0-1) Pairwise). So far Western has been their toughest opponent, who rolled over Bowling Green to 4-1 and 8-2 wins each night. Against the Spartans and Wildcats, BGSU was able to manage a split. But the NMU series should be taken with a grain of salt, as both teams are high offense with little to no defensive or goaltending. The series was who can score the most goals, plain and simple.
From Michigan State, on the other hand, we can glean a bit more info. The Spartans are a similar team to our Huskies when it comes to stats and roster makeup. Here we find a much more competitive series, with the winner of both games only giving up a single goal. This is a more reasonable forecast to expect this weekend based on what we’ve seen our Huskies do so far.
Before we go any further we should look at who’s leading this Falcons team:
This year’s Falcons are like Bemidji teams from years past in that they are very top heavy. The team point leader is Austen Swankler, whose name might ring a bell as he was mentioned in this week’s Joe Shawhan Hour, with good reason. He played in the OHL for the Erie Otters for two seasons from 2019-2021. One might ask how someone who played that much in major juniors is allowed to play NCAA hockey? Well, in short the NCAA screwed up and didn’t read that part of his resume before granting him eligibility. Regardless of the fact that Swankler is eligible when he shouldn’t be, the key to stopping the Falcons will be to stop this now-amateur hockey player.
Looking to their two losses to Mankato we find the following:
Both games against Mankato show just how vulnerable this top heavy Falcons team is. As soon as they faced a competent defense and goalie they weren’t able to manage much in the way of shot creation or prevention. The Mavericks put on a clinic in terms of shots and scoring chances, though the Falcons did manage to keep the games close for around half of each game. We can see this very trend in our xG goals plot curious of THG’s Zach Aufdemberge (Augie):
Both nights the Falcons’ scoring chances close with the Mavericks until about 10 minutes into the 2nd period, after which Mankato would pull away in xGs. It should be noted that game one saw the Falcons tie things up with a last minute powerplay and extra attacker to force overtime, which they would eventually lose.
Moving over to our Huskies, we saw a successful weekend that ended in a sweep of St. Lawrence. Game one saw 12 different Huskies make the score sheet, with the shot map looking like this:
The Huskies this weekend were a masterclass in how to take high danger chances while also showing that shots from the point can work, but only if there is screening of the opponents goalie. The screened long shot would work for Tech three times on Friday, with goals from Crespi, Saretsky and Lipe. Game two saw a bit of story even though it had the same number of shots from both teams:
The Huskies’ shots were forced away from the crease, causing them to be less dangerous as St. Lawrence would be forechecking harder. Additionally they would keep Tech to only 3 goals, with one being an empty netter. Tech would have to fight hard for every goal this game, with their first coming off of a huge shot block by Kyle Kukkonen leading to a switch of possession and momentum.
Some other aspects of Tech’s weekend worth mentioning was the continued growth of Jake Crespi’s game as he transitioned to the Huskies’ defense. Coach Shawhan would also utilize him as a forward on the penalty kill, making him a true swiss army knife of this Tech team. As Thorne remains out due to injury it will be up to Crespi and the rest of the D core to continue to eat up minutes.
Next up was the play of Trevor Kukkonen, who managed to crack Saturday’s line up. He may have only had about 8 minutes of ice time but he made the most of it, rotating with Pederson and Nordstorm on Tech’s 4th line. I can see him continuing this development this weekend as I feel he’s earned at least one more game of fourth line minutes, if not more. Finally the stories of AJHL alumni in Jack Works and Kash Rasmussen took turns drawing attention each night.
First up is Rasmussen, who actually made ESPN’s Top 10 Friday night with this absolutely insane goal, finally managing to get his first collegiate goal after a questionable call stripped him of it the week prior. Saturday wouldn’t disappoint either, with Jack Works netting his second goal of the season (and first at home) after dodging the score sheet in game one. I would suspect that both will start to light up the stat sheet sooner rather than later as they appear to finally find some comfort in this Michigan Tech style of play.
Keys to the Game
- Defense is king. As the Huskies enter play in November defense is going to be more important that ever. BGSU is just the introduction to this month and Tech can’t solely rely on Blake Pietila to bail them out every night. As much as Blake might think he can, it’s unsustainable given to the amount of shots he’s going to face.
- Keep pushing. Tech has done a phenomenal job at pushing their shots closer to the net. They will need to keep this up as we can see that most of the goals Bowling Green let in came from the slot or from close chances. If Tech is able to repeat their success from Alaska and against St. Lawrence, they should be in good shape.
- Come in hot. Both nights last weekend Tech started the game noticeably on their back foot. They would eventually pull away, and with this BGSU team that will be very important as it appears they start to dwindle around the halfway mark in each game. Given Tech’s spotty defense only time will tell if the trend continues.
At the beginning of the season I called this series a BGSU sweep, but now a month in my Falcons stock has fallen like the market. I do still expect a highly offensive team that can keep the Huskies hemmed in their own zone for long periods of time, but Rose and Stoever are nowhere near the level Blake or Max are. As soon as the Huskies are able to battle back into the BGSU zone I see high danger chances to follow. However, given their current five game losing streak I see the Falcons at least taking one. MTU wins 3-1, BGSU wins 2-1.
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 7:07 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.