After a tough weekend for the Michigan Tech Huskies (22-9-4, 21-8-4 (1-1) Pairwise) and fans alike, we go into the month of March with the 2nd seed overall in the CCHA playoffs. Tech hosts St. Thomas (11-21-2, 9-18-2 (2-3) Pairwise) for their 3rd matchup of the year. The Tommies ended their season 7th in the conference after threatening for 6th, but lost out in their final game of the regular season. Needless to say both teams have a chip on their shoulders going into this weekend for a best-of-three, winner-take-all series.
The Tommies end their second Division I season one spot up in the CCHA standings and 13 spots better in the Pairwise (as of the writing of this piece) jumping to 46th overall from dead last in 2021-22. St. Thomas is truly one of the most improved teams in college hockey in my eyes, and though others in college hockey will point to teams like Merrimack, RIT, or Alaska, they miss the point that this is the Tommies’ first season with an actual roster of all DI talent. Sure 47th isn’t all that high, but compare them to programs like Brown, RPI, Vermont, Holy Cross, Yale, etc. who all have had years to field a Division I hockey team. It is impressive how St. Thomas surpasses all of them in just a single year.
Taking a look at their player stats we see:
What many don’t realize from this Tommies team is they have the equivalent of a Kyle Kukkonen, two Logan Pietilas, and two Parker Saretskys in terms of point production. I’d go so far to say that St. Thomas is one or two classes away from being a top CCHA team once they can sort out their defense and goaltending. Aaron Trotter has been serviceable this season, but he hasn’t shown to be a quality college hockey starter yet. He is going to be holding the line for at least a few more years as St. Thomas waits out their NCAA tournament ban (standard for teams making the jump to DI) and makes way for committed netminder Will Ingemann, who is looking promising in Minnesota high school hockey.
This Tommies team’s major downsides are their defense, goaltending, and depth production. They have a good if not great top line and two thirds of a second line, but things go sharply downhill from there. We can see this in their series last weekend as well:
Last weekend showed just how inconsistent this Tommies’ team can be, with a closely fought game on Friday while being completely blown out on Saturday. This again boils down to the three flaws that I gave earlier where they can manage around 2 goals a game, but don’t have the ability to ensure they can prevent their opponents from scoring more. It’s almost like St. Thomas is in a Jekyll and Hyde situation where one night they are no threat at all and the next they are upsetting any team they play.
Moving to our Huskies, on Friday we saw a typical Huskies Hockey game where great defense and playing close with Mankato resulted in a shutout win pushing the Huskies up one point in the conference standings. Game two was a different story though…
Where to begin? First things first, Minnesota State was the better of the two teams for the full sixty minutes. Regardless of which team you are a fan of, the Mavericks just played better. The elephant in the rink was the goaltender interference call in the third period. After a prolonged argument then a coaches challenge, the resulting goal was taken away from the Huskies. I will say that my personal opinion is that it should have counted. I can however, also see the reasoning to disallow it as well. My biggest complaint was not that review, but the officiating as a whole. Saturdays’ game would see the Mavericks getting four power plays; scoring on three of them. Our Huskies on the other hand would see just one penalty shot and nothing else.
I won’t go any further on the subject, but I will leave you the reader with this. Don’t be surprised if a Husky regular is missing in the lineup this weekend due to being slashed in the hand resulting in what is most likely a fracture. If that wasn’t called, just imagined what else was let slide.
Normally this is the part of the preview I would include Tech’s shot maps and point you towards an Analytics with Augie article, but InStat hasn’t uploaded the game yet. Seems last weekend’s series was so controversial not even InStat wanted to publish the data…
Instead, enjoy this Blake Pietila meme stolen from the Misfits:
Keys to the Game
- Play wise, not mad. This is going to be key to this weekend (hence being in the keys of the game). Last weekend’s finale needs to light a fire under their butts to not lose again this season, because after this series losing a game isn’t an option. However, Tech needs to be sure not to play angry as this will lead to mistakes being made. They just need to keep winning and they can get their revenge against the Mavericks down the road.
- Don’t give the refs a call. Last weekend the Huskies took too many penalties. The usually great PK decided to malfunction on Saturday so they need to stay out of the box or prove they are still up to snuff. Another way to look at this is to not give the refs the ability to change the result of the series with a call either. If Tech had been able to score more than two goals on Saturday that interference call wouldn’t have mattered.
- Offensive Touch. Tech is a very good team. Great goaltending, great defense, but where they lack is the scoring department. Two goals against the Tommies might cut it to win, but that isn’t going to work further down the road.
Tech is the favorite. St. Thomas can’t even qualify for the national tournament right now so they are solely playing the role of spoiler. I can see the Tommies stealing a game given how they play, but due to their inconsistency taking two is out of the question more or less. This is more a test of how the Huskies can come back from such a heart wrenching finish. MTU wins 3-1, MTU wins 2-1.
The guys on our Chasing MacNaughton Podcast also made predictions for this coming series against the Tommies.
Cover photo courtesy Michigan Tech Athletics.
InStat plots created by Zach Aufdemberge
How to Watch
All games are available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (free), and via flohockey.tv* (paywall) for video. Game 1 will be Friday at 7:07 EST, game 2 will be Saturday at 6:07 EST, and game 3 (if necessary) will be Sunday at 5:07 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.