While Michigan Tech’s season didn’t end the way anyone wanted, it was still a tremendous campaign. Them Dogs piled up 25 wins and, for the second straight year, qualified for the NCAA Tournament. And this was with a team that almost no one—except perhaps some of the players—thought would be much above .500. So, there’s a lot to celebrate, and that brings us to the Sixth Annual Old Dog Awards, where THG recognizes individual contributions to this year’s accomplishments.
The James Brown Hardest Working Man in Hockey Award
This is always a tough one for the Old Dog to select, and this year’s team made it even more difficult. Many players put everything they had into every shift, and it would have been easy just to say that and let it go. But there were a couple of players who stood out even on a team known for hustle and determination. The winner this year is last year’s runner-up, Ryland Mosley. Mosley notched 12 goals and 19 assists playing on the Huskies’ top line, was +5 and had three short-handed goals to boot. Honorable Mention goes to Jack Works, who was a dynamo after figuring out his role on this year’s squad.
The Bob D’Alvise Scoring Award
D’Alvise was the leading scorer on Tech’s last national championship team in 1975. Mosley’s 31 points makes him the winner for 2022-23. Freshman Kyle Kukkonen, who has the makings of a major NCAA star and made the CCHA all-freshman team, is the winner of The Mike Zuke Goal Scorer’s Award for the most goals with 18. The Old Dog hasn’t seen a Husky with as much potential as Kukkonen for quite a while, and I’m hoping he stays on the roster even though he has to be attracting attention from the Anaheim Ducks, who own his draft rights.
The Chris Connor Pound-For-Pound Award
Connor, who was only 5 foot 7 and — at most — weighed 170 pounds, was also one of the Huskies’ all-time greats. While the Huskies seem to get bigger every year, the Old Dog has selected Tyrone Bronte for this year’s award. Generously listed at 5 foot 10 and 178 pounds, he posted a solid +6 while playing on Tech’s fourth line. The junior from Melbourne, Australia still needs to put it all together game after game, but, like many upper classmen this year, he made big strides in becoming a more complete player.
The Bob Lorimer Gibraltar Award
Tech’s best defenseman on the 1975 National Champions was Bob Lorimer, who also has his name on the Stanley Cup twice. On a team with a very strong defense, our winner this year is an easy pick—Brett Thorne stood above the other D-men on the Huskies. Thorne led the Huskies in plus-minus with +13, was the top-scoring defenseman with 18 points (3 goals, 15 assists) and was a stalwart in his own end. With a year of eligibility left, Thorne may not be back as NHL scouts are reportedly very impressed with his overall play.
The How Did I End Up In Houghton Rookie of the Year Award
This is always a fun pick for the Old Dog because a) Houghton is, as the famous sign says, 4 miles past the end of the earth, and b) recruiting is now an international venture. There were quite a few candidates this year, including Topi Heiskanen (Kuopio) and Max Vayrynen (Espoo), both from Finland. However, even though he traveled a bit shorter distance to get to the Copper Country, Jack Works gets my nod. Works hails from Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories in Canada, the only city in that vast expanse. “The Knife” as it’s called sits just 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle. With eight goals and nine assists, Works is another player who could be a big star next year.
The John Scott I Actually Studied Award
Former NHL All-Star MVP John Scott, who got his degree in mechanical engineering, has written about studying thermodynamics on long bus rides while everyone else was watching movies. Coach Joe Shawhan emphasizes scholarship and the Old Dog endorses that new tradition. This past season, Blake Pietila, Kash Rasmussen, and Oliver Bezick (who was injured and missed the entire season) all notched perfect 4.0 averages. Woof Woof!
The Al Karlander Senior Leadership Award
Karlander was the Old Dog’s favorite player back when he was a freshman and watching at Dee Stadium, and he also led Tech to a WCHA championship in that year. Once again, seniors were the heart and soul of most wins this year. While I still have to pick a winner, the Old Dog is going to share this award between Parker Saretsky and Jake Crespi. Saretsky told Shawhan he was better than Shawhan thought, and he put up numbers that showed just that: seven goals, thirteen assists and a +11 rating. Crespi made the difficult transition from center to defense and, after a few early games of adjustment, was not only a solid defender, but also an offensive threat, with four goals, ten assists and +10.
The Billy Steele Penalty Killer Extraordinaire Award
Steele was a madman who’d do anything to kill penalties while playing for the 1975 NCAA Champion Huskies. This past year, Tech was again in the top five in the nation in both PK percentage and shorthanded goals (7). With plenty of worthy candidates, the Old Dog is going to honor Ryan O’Connell for this award. O’Connell was not flashy but was extremely dependable and logged a lot of minutes keeping the heat off when the Huskies were down a man or two.
The Tony Esposito Goaltending Award
For the second year in a row, there’s no contest for this award. Blake Pietila broke or tied almost every record in the Huskies book. His ten shutouts, .924 save percentage and career wins (tying Bruce Horsch with 58 career wins as a Husky), and being named a finalist for both the Hobey Baker and Mike Richter awards says it all.
The John MacInnes Coaching Grade
In Shawhan’s fifth year as head coach, he didn’t think he’d be very successful. In a discussion with the Old Dog last August, he was reluctant to talk much about the coming season and, in the CCHA coaches pre-season poll, picked the Huskies to finish without home ice in the playoffs.
While Shawhan’s teams continue to be defensive whizzes they once again struggled on offense. But the Huskies still posted wins, nearly all of them by slim margins. More importantly, this team just seemed to be special, particularly after winning the Desert Classic in Phoenix. Never one to mince words (although perhaps he should do just that at times), Shawhan appeared to be more relaxed and more comfortable, allowing his assistants Jordy Murray and Tyler Shelast to have a greater role behind the bench.
He also challenged the upper classmen to step up and that’s what they did. Once again, the Huskies finished second in the CCHA Minnesota State, and fell just short of winning or sharing the MacNaughton Cup in the climactic final game in Mankato.
This was a Shawhan’s best season, period. He won the CCHA Coach of the Year award and was named a finalist for the Spencer Penrose award for best in the NCAA. Shawhan, Murray, Shelast and goal coach Jamie Phillips all deserve an “A.” It was almost an A+ but the way the season end took just a tiny bit of shine off the Huskies’ great year.
And what about next year? A lot may depend on how many players come back for another season. Some will have pro contracts to consider, others with COVID-year eligibility may be looking at grad school, and there are a lot of promising freshmen from this year’s team who could very well become front-line stars next year, too. And, as always, there will be yet another freshman class come September, and we may see more of the impact that Murray and Shelast are beginning to have as recruiters on Tech’s hockey fortunes.
The Old Dog hopes to be back then to watch yet another year of the Huskies from Houghton.
Mike Anleitner is a 1972 Michigan Tech grad, and he was in the first class of what has become the Scientific & Technical Communications program. He also has an engineering degree from Wayne State and an MBA from Michigan-Ross. He spent forty seven years in various manufacturing and engineering positions, and is currently a semi-retired freelance engineer. He lives during the fall and winter with his wife of 49 years Carol–also a ’72 Tech grad–in Addison, TX, a Dallas suburb with more restaurants per capita than any other municipality in the US. During the summer, Mike and Carol reside in Elmira, MI and avoid the Texas heat.