Our Huskies (9-3-3, 9-3-3 (0-0) Pairwise) officially have two months worth of hockey under their belts as they head into this weekend against rivals Northern Michigan (9-7-0, 7-7-0 (2-0) Pairwise). The Wildcats find themselves coming off a bye week as they host the Huskies in Game 1.
The Wildcats are in a weird position right now. They sit at two games above .500. On paper, they should probably be closer to a record of 12-4, but instead they lost games to both Alaskan teams and got swept by a middle-of-the-road Notre Dame (7-7-2, 6-7-2 (1-0) Pairwise) team. Additionally, in five of their seven losses they only managed to score one goal. Despite a number of high scoring players, the team is only managing 0.13 more goals a game than our Huskies, which is concerning for a team built around the idea of just scoring rather than preventing goals.
Looking at their top scorers we’ll need to extend or list past its usual 5-6 skaters:
The Wildcats have eight different skaters with 9 or more points, while our Huskies only have four. NMU is by far the best offensive team in the CCHA, with the largest amount of offensive depth out of any team. To add to this it appears that Northern has finally found their next successor to Atte Tolvanen after four years and seven different goalies to guard the crease. Beni Halasz will be the best goalie Tech has seen in an NMU uniform since the 2018-19 season, and has shown the ability to steal games.
That all being said, the real weakness of this Wildcat team boils down to their defense, both the overall team defense and their defensemen proper. Gone are Cosgrove, Newhouse and Hanson who made up a majority of last year’s D-core, leaving Mike Van Unen and Tanner Vescio as the last of the old guard. They did add Simon Kjellberg from the transfer portal to try to bolster things, but these three leave a lot to be desired compared to those who have departed. If this all sounds familiar it is because our Huskies have been dealing with the same situation, with most of our D-core being underclassmen as well. However, so far Tech’s young blueliners have managed to bend without breaking more times than not this season.
Since NMU had a bye week and their last opponent was Minnesota State, the following plots are going to be a bit of deja vu:
Looking at these plots again, but for the Wildcats, we see the issues they have been having all season. They are competitive in one game and then get kept to one goal the next. This has been the case in five of their eight series so far this season. Additionally, against the Mavericks most of their chances came either on the power play or on momentum change. This would usually consist of a quick zone entry with multiple players pushing the net leaving options open to pass between them and one of getting a shot off. If Tech is able to slow their zone entry or aggressively forecheck while they attempt this strategy, the Huskies should be able prevent anything from happening.
Speaking of our Huskies, last weekend we saw Tech exceed almost all fans expectations, taking game one and coming 40 seconds from taking the series sweep against the Mavericks. Our Huskies surprised me a lot especially with the reduced defensive core. Game one saw their typical defensemen lineup minus Ryan O’Connell, who has been dealing with a concussion from the Lake State series. However, halfway through the third period Chris Lipe went down with a lower body injury. The Huskies managed to hold on after the Mavericks turned on the pressure with a total of 26 shots in the third alone. Looking at our InStat insights we see:
The Huskies manage to capitalize on some high danger chances while keeping Mankato to only a few. Additionally, when Mankato exploded in the 3rd most of their chances were low, allowing the Tech D men to help Blake out the best they could.
Once again, game two was a whole different story as Tech would be without O’Connell, Lipe, and Russell (upper body injury). Instead freshmen Evan Orr and Frank Dovorany would crack the line up to fill in the gaps. Both performed well taking short shifts while making sure not to leave any opening for the Mavericks to exploit. In fact it wasn’t just those two eating up ice time, but in fact the entire team with the no skater recording lower than seven minutes allowing a depleted Tech team to keep up with the 10th ranked Mavericks.
InStat shows a similar story:
In game two, Mankato gave Blake a chance to stand on his head, and he managed to do this for the most part all night. Sadly, a poorly timed penalty by Kyle Kukkonen would give the Mavericks a 6 on 4 power play chance where they would finally out-gun Pietila, resulting in the tying goal with only 40 seconds left in the third.
Keys to the Game
- Stay out of the box. The Huskies had 11 penalties last weekend and were able to keep Mankato to only one power play goal. This isn’t going to work against the Wildcats, who have a PP% of 26.5 — good for 7th in the country. Tech will need to stay out of the box if they want any chance to stay in in the game.
- Keep your cool. This goes in hand with the first key of the game, but Tech’s leaders will need to lead by example and not screw around. Thorne had a bad roughing call because he lost his cool and Caderoth took a five-and-a-game just two weekends ago. They mean too much to this team and this type of play needs to stop. Playing with emotion is fine, but don’t let it overcome logic.
- Next man up. The Huskies will likely be missing Lipe and Russell this week, with O’Connell being a possibility. The D-core will have to step up once again, and against a better offensive team than what they saw with the Mavericks. This series boils down to a game of systems, and if they stick to Tech’s patent defense first play style they should be able to take at least one game, if not both.
I can see a split coming out of this weekend given the injuries to Tech’s blue line. They will have the advantage on the large ice at the Berry, while NMU should be better on the small ice at the MAC. That being said, I think the Huskies are the favorites from the systems game and if Coach Shawhan and company are able to replicate what we saw last weekend fans might be rewarded with a sweep. MTU wins 3-1, NMU wins 3-2.
The guys on our Chasing MacNaughton Podcast also made predictions for this coming series against the Wildcats.
Cover photo courtesy Michigan Tech Athletics.
InStat plots created by Zach Aufdemberge.
How to Watch
Both games are available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (free), and via flohockey.tv* (paywall) for video. Game 1 at NMU will be Friday at 7:07 EST while game 2 at Tech 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.