As we enter the final weekend of February our Michigan Tech Huskies (21-8-4, 20-7-4 (1-1) Pairwise) are on the road for their final conference series against Minnesota State Mankato Mavericks (20-11-1, 18-7-1 (2-4) Pairwise). The Mavericks are coming off a split with Bemidji State winning game one and losing game two in overtime.
The Mavericks are a much different team than what our Huskies saw back in November of 2022. Since their last meeting the Mavericks have gone 12-3-3 while going 10-0-2 in 2023 alone. They have turned back into what fans and other teams have expected from them going into the season. Mankato currently leads the CCHA in points and holds a two point lead over our Huskies. This means if Tech wants to win the McNaughton Cup, they will need at least 4/6 points to at least tie for first. Looking at their team stats, it’s no surprise to see the success they’ve had:
Compared to our Huskies, the Mavericks hold a 4-5 point advantage when compared to our top scorers. This is most drastic at the lower end comparing Fitzgerald at 20 points to Thorne’s 16 points. A bright side for Tech fans is that the Huskies have a better distribution of points among classes while the Mavericks are mostly upperclassmen with the exception of 1 player in Fitzgerald for all players in double digit points on the season. Looking at Mankato’s previous weekend against the Beavers, we see:
All but one goal on the weekend came due to confusion either in front of the net or on the transition. All of Mankato’s goals were the result of hard net front pressure or stretch passes to get behind BSU’s D for odd man rushes.
This is a bit of good news for our Huskies as they have been pretty good at stopping those types of goals with most goals against coming from set plays (as seen in their last series against BGSU). This weekend is primarily going to boil down to how our Huskies play right now. The Mavericks are as stable as a US savings bond your grandparents get you and forget about, while our Huskies are a bit akin to the crypto market when they come off long stints without play. So far this season they have underperformed against Lake State and Western after having an extended break. Odds are they might do the same in game one against Minnesota State. This will come in the form of poor defensive plays by players like Chris Lipe who has had several goals scored due to his poor coverage.
This isn’t to say that what I say will happen, of course. Fans could be pleasantly surprised and we could see our Huskies manage to play their style of play, but then comes the hard part: who is going to score this weekend? The Mavericks are tied with our Huskies allowing only 2.1 goals a game meaning they are the first team Tech will play to be equals in defense. (Closest 2nd is Alaska at 2.3 goals a game but with a significantly weaker schedule than Mankato) The difference is that when it comes to goals scored per game; the Mavericks are tied for 13th in the country with Bowling Green, RIT, and St. Cloud State at 3.3. Our Huskies on the other hand are tied for 29th overall with Alaska, BC, Clarkson, Colgate, and Princeton with 2.8. The only saving grace has been Tech’s defense and goaltending which has bailed them out time and time again.
The main point I am trying to make in throwing all of the stats out is that if our Huskies aren’t able to score on themselves, they won’t be able to score against the Mavericks who have significantly tightened things up since their last meeting. Looking at the shot charts from winter carnival we see:
Game one was a display of poor defense while game two shows what happens when they are able to play their systems. It will be up to the Huskies which night they choose to replicate.
Keys to the Game
- Special teams. Roughly 30% of the Maverick’s goals have come from the powerplay. If Tech is able to keep their current PK% rate, Mankato will have to find another way to make up that deficit.
- CCHA: It’s in the Game. If the Huskies can keep to their game this should be a very competitive weekend. Whether or not it’s competitive enough for the Huskies to get 4 points minimum only time will tell.
- Level Heads Prevail. Tech will need to keep their emotions in check. This series is basically a playoff preseason game for them as they are fully expected to make a deep playoff push in the CCHA and get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. This will be perfect practice for them as they start playing games that matter more than regular season games.
I’m going into this weekend a bit more pessimistic than some others here at THG. I think the Huskies will split, but I don’t see them getting enough conference points to take home the McNaughton. This solely boils down to I just don’t think the offense is going to be there. Sure they might be able to get at least two goals a game, but with some of the spotty defense lately and it being the end of the season Blake isn’t going to be as fresh necessarily. MTU wins 2-1. Kato wins 3-2.
The guys on our Chasing MacNaughton Podcast also made predictions for this coming series against the Mavericks.
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. Please note, game 2 has an earlier start time due to Winter Carnival festivities and will be played 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.