As we enter the month of February, our Huskies (18-7-4, 17-6-4 (1-1) Pairwise) enter their last month of the regular season. They only have one home series left, Winter Carnival, and will be on the road the rest of the way. This weekend they face off against the Bemidji State Beavers (11-10-5, 8-9-5 (3-1) Pairwise), who like our Huskies are eying the top spot in the CCHA — with two games in hand.
The Beavers are a strange team. Given their individual player stats, one would think they would have a better record than 11-10-5. They have beaten top teams like St. Cloud (18-8-0, 17-7-0 (1-1) Pairwise) while splitting both series with Lake Superior State (5-21-2, 4-19-2 (1-1) Pairwise). They really are a hot or not team that goes through spurts of wins and losses. Currently they are in the middle of a .500 stint over the last two weeks against Northern and LSSU. However, if the recent match up history is anything to go by, our Huskies will have their work cut out for them as the Beavers have had their number this year. Looking at the BSU’s top players we see:
The Beavers are a team by committee like our Huskies, with the exception of a few players hogging team assists in Rosén, Zmolek and Roed. The biggest note for the top players is that with the exception of Roed all the point getters are upperclassmen, either seniors or graduate transfer students. The Beavers are typically an upperclassmen heavy scoring team, but in the case of this season it isn’t working as well as it has in previous years. The result of this can be seen in the stats of goaltender Sholl, who is by all accounts having a breakout year, but holds a record of 8-6-5 despite a fantastic GAA and SV%. This is all due to the lack of offense production and consistent defense, resulting in the team averaging 2.65 goals a game while giving up 2.62 goals a game. With numbers like that it doesn’t matter how many pucks Sholl stops if they can’t get him offensive support.
Looking at their previous match up with LSSU we see:
There are two big items to note about the Beavers not including the severe down year for the Lakers. The first is the TOI of the players. In game one the Beavers were playing behind until they were able to tie it and then pull ahead in the 3rd. To this end BSU played with a shortened bench, to the point where I doubt nine players saw more than 1-2 mins of ice time in the 3rd period. Instead, the Beavers rely on their top defensemen and their budding freshman star. Game two shows what happens when they are playing with a lead, with ice time more evenly distributed. The second takeaway is where their goals are scored from. The Beavers scored their goals either due to net front confusion, or through set plays resulting in shots from the point.
Moving to our Huskies, we saw a very complete sweep against the Wildcats with the standout being Tech’s defense and goaltending from Blake Pietila. The team gave up 47 shots on the weekend and Blake stopped 46 of them. He has now tied his own record set last year for single season shutouts at 7. This also leads the NCAA by two more than the next netminder Yaniv Perets (Quinnipiac), who Blake will surely be fighting for the Mike Richter Award. Tech’s defense also took center stage playing very solid while the offense looks to finally be getting out of their lack of scoring funk.
That isn’t saying the power play is any better. Though they did look improved, our Huskies are still at a paltry 14.2% on the PP, good for 53rd in the country. At this point in the season it’s a lost cause for fans and for us in the media to really fret about it. I say this because even though they aren’t scoring on the man advantage, they aren’t letting their opponents either. With an 88.6% penalty kill they are first in the country. Essentially our Huskies have removed special teams from the game of hockey, if a team wants to score on Michigan Tech they will have to do it at even strength. This nullifies teams like Minnesota State, Bowling Green, Bemidji State and Northern Michigan, all of whom are all in the top 20 for PP%. A team like Mankato has had ~31% of their goals come from the powerplay. Tech’s play style takes away nearly a third of the Mavericks goal production even before the game starts. Looking at the Beavers, they have ~28% of their goals coming from the powerplay, and when they play our Huskies they are going to have to make up that difference. NMU wasn’t able to and it resulted in Tech sweep.
That’s not to say my approach is correct, but it does make some sense in my eyes. If Tech can’t score on the powerplay and their opponents can’t score against them then those percentages are just null and void more or less statistically speaking. This take
might will result in a stern talking to from THG’s Augie but until proven otherwise all special teams do in a Tech hockey game (88.6% of the time) is kill time, regardless of who has the man advantage.
Keys to the Game
- Take the lead. Our Huskies need to play with a lead this entire weekend if they want a chance to beat the Beavers. Besides the obvious “duh” response you have to this point, it’s more than surface deep. Coach’s Tom Serrotore’s system results in some of the most boring hockey to watch à la the 2011 Flyers mocking the Lightnings’ play style. This isn’t to say that Serrotore’s system is bad, it’s just that a Beavers lead turns the hockey game from a slugfest to a stallfest.
- Offensive Pressure. Tech will need to keep putting up the pressure against someone like Sholl. He is a great netminder, but he is human. Given enough chances Tech will score and the odds will be in their favor if they can generate confusion, too.
- Get in, get out. Bemidji is probably one of the hardest road trips in the CCHA given the location and the temperatures in the area. The Sanford Center is a fantastic venue, but the rest of the area is just plain brutal in winter. If all goes well hopefully this will be Tech’s first and only time they have to visit Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox this year, if they can take all 6 points it will guarantee them a higher playoff seed in the second round regardless of the results of the rest of the season for either team.
This will be Tech’s hardest opponent since they played Boston University on January 7th. The season only gets harder from here for our Huskies with Bemidji being a practice test for the final exams in Bowling Green and Mankato. I think Tech has what it takes to sweep, but sadly I think BSU will pull out a win either due to Sholl’s performance or some weird puck luck. BSU wins 2-1, MTU wins 3-2.
The guys on our Chasing MacNaughton Podcast also made predictions for this coming series against the Beavers.
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), via flohockey.tv* (paywall) for video. Game 1 will be Friday at 8:07 Est and game 2 will be Saturday at 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.
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.