It’s been a crazy week in the Controversial Collegiate Hockey Association (uh, Central Collegiate Hockey Association). First, the conference announced both the coaches poll as well as the media poll for the coming season. These two polls also chose an all CCHA preseason team, as well as their pick for the CCHA player of the year.
In both of the polls, Michigan Tech was voted the likely league champion, and Huskies Blake Pietila (G), Kyle Kukkonen (F) were also first team choices. Jed Pietila was on the same list in the media poll.
All normal so far. Then events blew up at Bowling Green over a hazing problem, and THG’s Tim Braun has all the details, as well as additional information about the pre-season polls.
Oh, just one more odd tidbit unfolded. Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own team in their poll. In that poll, the Huskies got four first place votes and Northern Michigan got three. St. Thomas got one—and MTU’s Joe Shawhan revealed on media day that he was the one vote for the Tommies. I guess Shawhan couldn’t bring himself to vote for NMU.
Do The Huskies Merit the Attention?
The reality is that Tech is now in the spotlight. They should have a very solid team in the coming season, and there will be a huge number of battles just to get into the lineup until things are sorted out. Shawhan has a great freshman class coming in, and you can read about those players, as our new THG writer Nathan Cima shines a spotlight on these freshmen.
At least three of these freshmen (Max Koskipirtti, Isaac Gordon, and Chase Pietila) have the clear potential to be regulars in the lineup—or perhaps even breakout stars in the coming season.
Two portal transfers—Lachlan Getz (from Boston University, preseason #1 in the national polls) and Matthew Campbell (from Quinnipiac, current NCAA champions), both of whom were unable to crack the lineup in their previous schools due to the great players in front of them, will be “almost freshmen” as well.
Add to that a boatload of returning starters on a team that finished tenth in the national pairwise rankings, and it’s no surprise that Them Dogs should be favored in the coming season.
But It Won’t Be An Easy Road
However, if the Huskies start to think that the rest of the CCHA will rollover and let them waltz to the MacNaughton Cup, they may not live up to all of this pre-season hype. NMU will have a very strong team, perhaps their best in the last five years or even more, and Bemidji State, while losing key players to graduation, will likely be a very tough out as well.
St. Thomas may not be the potential champion that Shawhan voted for, but they keep upgrading the talent in St. Paul and will play with fire every night. And finally, defending champion Minnesota State, while devastated by the loss of coach Mike Hastings and most of their best players to Wisconsin (heretofore referred to as Minnesota State-Madison), probably won’t be the pushover some are suggesting.
Bowling Green, with their hazing episode, will lose the best offensive player in the conference, as well as three other players, not to mention their coach, and quite likely will not be able recover from this week’s events. The Old Dog will never say that Ferris State should be discounted as long as Bob Daniels is the head man. Finally, Lake Superior State will have a tough time this year, as they again lost players they needed to keep. However, LSSU always seems to find a way to play above their talent whenever they face the Huskies.
As Always, Tech Needs More Offense
Ever since Shawhan took over the Tech program in 2017, his teams have always been tough to score on. Forwards who don’t play defensive hockey don’t get much ice time, and more than a few have left because they just couldn’t or wouldn’t adapt.
The CCHA, though, is like that almost everywhere. Every team, nearly every year has a goalie who can look like an All-American on any given night. Team schemes focus on clogging the area in front of their own net and sealing off passing lanes in the neutral zone. Too often, CCHA games are dump-and-chase battles, with the victor being the team with the best grit and most consistent structure and discipline.
The Huskies will certainly have that all of that again with a solid defensive core. They also have one of, if not the best, goaltenders in the country in Blake Pietila. You can see my in-depth summer assessment of his game here.
At the same time, this might be the Huskies’ deepest offensive squad since Mel Pearson left. There are plenty of goal scorers, and the talent, both from returning players and newcomers, to light up the scoreboard on most nights. If they can do that, then they just might be as good as the preseason polls suggest.
If the Huskies once again end up playing game after game with a one goal difference, or going into a shoot-out for conference points, then we’ll have to step back and evaluate the role of coaching in Tech’s offensive troubles. This is the first time Shawhan’s had a deep offensive roster, and we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
We get our first look at Tech’s new squad on October 7th as the Huskies travel to Duluth to Minnesota-Duluth to take on the Bulldogs in the US Hockey Hall of Fame Game. The Old Dog is itching to see what the Huskies do on the ice that night.
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.