Well here we are Tech fans. This time last year we expected our Huskies (24-9-4, 23-8-4 (1-1) Pairwise) to be here in the semifinals and even as the favorites to beat Bemidji. We all remember that the Beavers managed to beat Tech with their one line made up of Ierullo-O.Sillinger-L.Sillinger. The Huskies now face another similar situation with Northern Michigan (20-16-0, 16-16-0 (3-0) Pairwise) as they have Ghantous, Shlaine, and Vanderbeck. Though they don’t play on the same line, they are all over 30 points.
The Wildcats continue their hot streak, only losing two games since their last series with Tech. Their offense in particular has been on a tear scoring 44 goals over 10 games, while outsourcing any defensive problems they might have had. The biggest surprise has to be the improved play of Beni Halasz since Tech last saw him. He has been nothing but the picture of consistency. I would say that fans should expect similar performances from the last Tech-NMU series. Looking at the NMU top players we see:
Like last time we find that Northern has a top end offense that is only rivaled by the likes of Minnesota State or Bowling Green. However, unlike the Mavericks, the Wildcats don’t have the defensive systems to back it up. Additionally, their end of season opponents weren’t much in the way of defensive powerhouses. Bemidji hasn’t been their normal selves this season, Ferris relies a bit too heavily on goaltending to bail them out, Lake State has just had a down year, and Bowling Green just tried to outscore their opponent with reckless disregard for their own back end. NMU has had better success recently partly from their forwards playing better defense as well. It will be seen if they can continue this style of play this weekend, as Saturday’s game is surely to be more emotional.
Looking at their series with BSU we see the following:
The biggest thing that stands out from these games is the xG of the Beavers being higher than the Wildcats both nights. The Bemidji out played Northern analytically, but lost the series in reality. Game one saw a lot of fluky goals with the Beavers being out of position a lot of the time and Northern getting extra-ordinary bounces. Game two was more of what should be normally expected in a match up like this with the Wildcats edging out a win on the back of Halasz.
Looking towards the home team, our Huskies saw a closely fought game with the Tommies. Game one was more or less what was expected from the series as a whole with a close game both in scoring and in playstyle. Trotter was the difference maker both nights making some spectacular saves on Tech’s chances. Game two however, showed how he can still be unreliable letting in two routine saves that should have never seen the back of the net. On the other side of the ice, Blake saw a new Tech record in recording his 10th shutout of the season Friday while having to carry the Huskies on Saturday.
Game two was a much different story from game one. The Tommies were more desperate and it showed, with them scoring four goals on the night. Tech managed to score six times with only five goals actually counted with Jake Crespi’s goal being taken away. A hit that was deemed to be a five-minute major a minute before Tech would score, causing the goal to be removed and forcing the Huskies on the PK.
Looking at the shot charts for both nights we can see just how even both teams were:
xGs is also nearly identical for both games, but you’ll have to take a look at Augie’s breakdown for that insight.
The moral of the story is that Tech and St. Thomas were evenly matched and unlike the BSU-Northern series there were no flakey goals that caused a massive swing in play. I would expect a similar storyline this weekend as Tech isn’t known to give the Wildcats many chances in recent years.
Keys to the Game
- Choose your character! The lineup this weekend is going to be very important as both teams only get one shot at this. The major development for our Huskies is that they will have Trevor Russell available this weekend after an extended absence due to injury. I would expect him to be the 7th defenseman/extra skater if he is 100% back up to game speed.
- Systems. We’ve been talking about this all season when it comes to this match up. The Wildcats are an offense-first team while the Huskies are defense-first. Since Coach Shawhan has taken the reins, the Huskies 21- 8 against NMU clearly his system has the advantage. Only time will tell if Coach Potulny has found a change that will cause a different result.
- Special teams. The Wildcats are tied for 12th in the nation on the powerplay (23.6%) while also being (and this may surprise Tech fans) 5th in the country on the penalty kill (85.1%). Tech will have to try to keep special teams to a minimum so that Northern can’t take advantage.
Historically, the data under Joe Shawhan projects the Huskies to be the winner. Their system just matches up better. However, if the CCHA wanted the best teams to win in their semifinal matchups, they would hold a series. The sport of hockey is a random one, I expect Tech to win, but I would not be surprised if they didn’t as well. MTU 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), via flohockey.tv* (paywall) for video, and broadcasted on TV6 featuring Mark Evans & Dave Ellis. Teams will battle it out this Saturday at 6:07 Est in Houghton.
*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.