The US Census Bureau defines the “Midwest” as “The region [that] includes the East North Central division: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin; and the West North Central division: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.”
Well, here we are Tech fans. Our Michigan Tech Huskies (24-9-4, 23-8-4 (1-1) Pairwise) have made it to the Big Dance. They will make their way to
a city that is 80 miles from the Atlantic Ocean Allentown Pennsylvania for the 2023 NCAA National Tournament Midwest regionals. They face off against the Penn State Nittany Lions (21-15-1, 19-12-1 (1-3) Pairwise).
I will just be covering the 5 pm EST Tech game in this preview and will have a second one at the ready if our Huskies manage to pull out a win!
The Nittany Lions are a sheep in wolves clothing this season. On the surface they have a record of 21-15-1 which may look impressive until you dig deeper into their season schedule:
In the beginning of the season Penn State was essentially gifted eight wins playing the lower half of the NCAA teams. When you look at comparable teams to our Huskies (MSU, ND, OSU, UAF), the Nittany Lions are 8-7-2. In fact, if you were to look at their conference record they are under .500 at 10-13-1. The biggest redeeming part of their whole schedule is that they mostly beat the teams they should have beaten and just happened to be in an incredibly strong B1G conference. This factor is also the reason 13-23-0 Wisconsin is at 37th in the pairwise while teams with similar records (UST, Mercyhurst, UNH, Bentley, Air Force) are in the 50s. This leads to Penn State’s 8th overall pairwise ranking to be inflated due to Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio State being in the same conference.
This doesn’t undercut the fact that they have wins against those top three schools, but it does need to be taken into account. Due to the national tournament format each team only gets one chance to win and this leaves PSU at roughly a 50/50 chance from a statistical standpoint. However, this doesn’t cover the aspect of how Penn State fairs against defense-first teams like the Huskies. Given who they’ve played, the most comparable teams would be Ohio State and Minnesota. Tech would fall somewhere in the middle of those teams from a defensive perspective given their shots against, PK%, and goals allowed. PSU has a record of 3-5-1 against teams with this play style though it should be taken with a grain of salt as both teams have a much better offense than our Huskies. I would expect the Nittany Lions to average ~2.18 goals a game if this was a series against Tech.
Looking at comparable offenses to our Huskies we have Alaska, Michigan State, Canisius, and RIT. Though it is better to narrow this group to just UAF and MSU as they play harder teams (Sorry, AHA fans). Here the Nittany Lions have a record of 3-1-2 where those teams averaged ~3.33 goals scored. This bodes well for Tech as that would mean they are the favorites in a goal differential perspective and to see why this is we need to look at PSU’s team stats:
These numbers are pretty dang similar to our Huskies. Tech does have a higher skill ceiling seen here:
As seen above Penn State has a higher collective scoring talent, but the Huskies have the higher ceiling with Mosely. The biggest difference is scoring depth which favors PSU and goaltending which is Tech’s bread and butter. The Nittany Lions have 16 players with double digit points while Tech has Blake Pietila. The best way to show this is with the following:
Oh wait, how did that get there?
Ah that’s better.
Writer’s Note: Instat only has one game from the best of 3 series against OSU. This data comes from game two where PSU won 2-1 in OT.
As seen above against a similar team (from a defensive perspective) in OSU, PSU managed to generate an xG of just above 2 goals. While on the other side Ohio State created enough chances to result in a xG of nearly 4.5.
This at first appears to be good for our Huskies, but we need to discuss their last game against NMU…
THG’s Augie has provide us with Tech’s game stats and it’s not pretty:
Now before you comment or say aloud “but Tech’s xGs is higher than NMU’s” we need to pump the brakes and look closer at the shot map. Using Instat’s xG per shot it classifies a shot attempt on goal into four categories:
Now I am going to list the number of shot attempts in each given category (shot was missed or blocked)
- 37 (25)
- 3 (3)
- 3 (3)
- 1 (1)
Do you see my point now? Our Huskies may have had 44 shots on goal, but only had a single shot on goal with an xG above 0.2 (0.25 to be exact). To be frank, I know people will disagree with me on this, but Tech didn’t show up to a playoff game against their biggest rival. So when coach Shawhan gives the excuse of: “we threw 45 (sic) shots at them, Northern is a good team, we played well in the game” it is simply not taking into account the data we have available. Not all shots are equal. The average xG per shot attempt was 0.04. Regardless of your opinion, Tech needs to play better.
Instead what fans saw were shots taken from the blue line while on the powerplay after just entering the O-zone, defensive turnovers galore, and a lack of defensive pressure. This might be revealing a trend that there might be some underlying issues with our Tech defense as they have underperformed ever since they lost to Mankato in the final regular season game.
In fact, going into that weekend they had a PK% of 88.8% and after their last five games it has dropped to 86.3% while giving up 6 powerplay goals. Additionally their own power play has still been an issue at 13.1%. Our Huskies are at the very bottom of all the teams who have made the tournament with Merrimack being the second worst at 13.2%.
Keys to the Game
- Say my name. This one is going to be quite obvious to Tech fans, but not so much to those out east and on ESPN. And that of course is one Blake Pietila. He is the Huskies’ ace in the hole that isn’t getting the national recognition he deserves compared to his counterparts like Yaniv Perets, Devon Levi, and Justin Close. In fact, ESPN thought it more important to cover Michigan’s Erik Portillo (23-10-2, 3.08 GAA, .907 SV%) who ranks 61st in CHN’s goalie ranking (based on GAA).
- Play with the lead. Tech is a team simply not built to play from behind. When they are you either get what fans saw in game two against Minnesota State where they can manage to will themselves back into a game. Or they roll over and let the opposing team kill the rest of the game (ie against Northern Michigan). In all of their games played this season, they have won only three games where they did not score first.
- Michigan Tech Hockey. In today’s age, Tech hockey is dominated by defense. This is the Huskies’ way of life here in the Copper Country and Tech needs to stick to their game. Penn State is going to try to play B1G hockey which is very much a high offense and a transition based type of play. This is at stark odds with the CCHA’s defensive grind league. If the Huskies stick to their style of game Penn State shouldn’t have a shot.
My Prediction: An Ode to Insanity.
Albert Einstein is often attributed to the quote “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” He was specifically referring to quantum mechanics where the same experimental setup can in fact lead to different results. This in some ways can also be attributed to our Michigan Tech Huskies. They will be in their 5th NCAA National Tournament in the last nine seasons. Each year though, something happens.
- 2015 Riley Sweeney’s trips over the blueline in overtime.
- 2017 Michael Neville blew out his knee early in the game.
- 2018 Mark Auk’s stick explodes in overtime.
- 2022 Brian Halonen is ejected during his first shift of the game.
Our Huskies have been able to make it to the big dance now a 5th time in 9 years, which is something to be proud of when looking back at the dark ages of Tech Hockey. However, I can just see something going wrong resulting in a loss in momentum for the rest of the game or an overtime breakaway.
Additionally our Huskies can exemplify this definition in how they play the game sometimes thinking that shots being taken from the outer perimeter of the zone will work. Or how they think you don’t need to screen a goalie while also trying to shoot the puck through them.
Finally, this quote can also be applied to us fans as well. We go into every regional expecting Tech to take away the win in at least the semifinal regional game only to be heart broken by some random event. I am just as guilty of this as any other Tech Hockey fan.
All that being said, we also need to look at what is the definition of fandom and more specifically Michigan Tech Hockey fandom. Hockey is a game of luck more so than any other major North American sport. Anything can and will happen and no two games are the same even though every game starts the same. This can be said for its fans too. Local fans, Alumni fans, current students, Pep Banders, Misfits, even us in the media forced to be more neutral or ask the tough questions, we all have something in common: our love of Tech Hockey.
If I wasn’t with THG I would be a season ticket holder like I was before joining. I would still go to every game possible regardless of how the team plays. I have traveled thousands of miles just for Tech Hockey to both the desert and the eastern seaboard. Does this mean I am also insane? Probably, but I like any other Michigan Tech Hockey fan wouldn’t have it any other way.
Our Huskies have shown this year that they can beat any team in the NCAA regardless of what the odds may look like. Now they just need to prove to their insane fans that this is the year. MTU wins 3-2.
The guys on our Chasing MacNaughton Podcast also made predictions for this coming series against the Nittany Lions.
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 ESPNU (Cable) for video featuring Clay Matvick & Sean Richlin. Teams will battle it out this Friday at 5:00 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.