As we enter the month of October we see the temperatures drop, leaves change, and the return of college hockey to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Our Michigan Tech Huskies will start their season facing off against long time opponents in the UMD Bulldogs in this year’s US Hockey Hall of Fame game. This one game series will be taking place in Duluth.
Our Huskies are no strangers to the annual Hockey hall of Fame game as they were the visiting opponents back in 2019 at North Dakota and 2017 at Wisconsin. This year marks their first return to northeastern Minnesota since their Ice Breaker win in 2017.
Like in years previous, as we start the season we find ourselves with a lacking stats, so this one game preview will have to be more speculation based as we try to piece together the puzzle that is both teams. First, we’ll cover the UMD Bulldogs. I can provide the stats from last season as a building block, but I must apologize in advance for a lack of instat data analysis by THG’s Zach Aufdemberge (it will come later as stats become available, we promise)
The Bulldogs return all of their big scoring players with the exception of Wyatt Kaiser who left the team to join the Chicago Blackhawks. In his stead we see the addition of Connor McMenamin from Penn State, though he is a forward instead of the defenseman lost. The Bulldogs underperformed last season on multiple fronts managing only a 16-20-1 record losing to teams like the 13-23-0 Badgers, 13-22-3 Colorado College Tigers, and 8-24-4 Miami Redhawks. While they are returning most of their top talent, they have suffered losses from their depth.
Players like Isaac Howard (Transferred to Michigan State), Derek Daschke (Graduated), and Jesse Jacques (Graduated) leave multiple holes that need to be filled. The rest of their roster was in the single digit point totals per player. This results in a major uncertainty as to where they will get the needed production after their top line leaves the ice at the end of their shifts.
If this is all starting to sound too familiar, that is because they are in a similar situation as our Huskies of recent memory. After their top line, we see a point decline, though not to the extent of UMD’s problems. Tech does have to figure out where to find the replacement production, whether it comes in the form of freshman scoring or via the transfer portal doesn’t matter. They did end up scoring a major pick-up in BGSU forward Austen Swankler, but thanks to NCAA transfer policy he will not be eligible to play until around GLI (similar to when Mosley joined halfway through the season in the 2020-21 season). He fills a glaring hole in Tech’s offensive production but is a moot factor until he is allowed to play.
Instead we have to just pretend Tech doesn’t have his 1.2 points per game for the first half of the season. So who do we have? Well, luckily there are some options:
The first two on the list are Work and J.Pietila who were close to 20 points last season. I would expect them to improve upon these totals this season as they have cemented themselves and lineup mainstays. Next up are the fringe double digit point getters in Rasmussen and Caderoth. Rasmussen had a decent freshman campaign and I would only expect him to get better as the quality of linemates has only gone up with this year’s recruiting class. As for Caderoth, we have been waiting on him to make the next step since his 18 point freshman season. He may fill many roles and is a good captain, but it has come at the cost of his point production. Hopefully he can turn things around in this department for his final season.
Finally is Orr, Bronte, and Russell who all should see improvement this season. Orr and Russell will need to take the biggest steps with the incoming class being significantly improved in the defenseman area. Chase Pietila, Nick Williams, Lachlan Getz, and Matthew Campbell all look to fill in the holes left by Throne, Crespi, Lipe, and O’Connell. However, they need to contend with other players still on the roster in Oliver Bezick and Kasper Vaharautio too, leaving a logjam in the defensive core. Bronte should see a jump in points this season if he can stay in the line up. All of the incoming forwards are more or less an improvement (at least on paper) to those leaving the program.
Keys to the Game
- Into the Depths. In a battle of top lines Duluth has the advantage. However, the sport of hockey is more than one line. Tech will need to start off the season strong with depth scoring. Assuming Tech’s top line stays the same as last year we will need to see growth from lines 2-4.
- Grow into it. This is a young Huskies team. We will need to let the incoming class grow into their positions and the Michigan Tech play style. Except some growing pains this weekend and hope that Tech can adjust accordingly.
- Go with the Flow. It’s only a one game series against UMD. Additionally it’s also the first game of the season. Systems aren’t going to be perfect, play might be sloppy, and some players might not be up to game speed yet. Tech needs to just try to stick it out.
This is the first time in recent history that Tech is the favorite to win. They are higher in the polls, they have better depth, and they have better netminders. I think this is a perfect test for our Huskies to see exactly where they are going into this season. They should be able to pull out a win, but the question is how sloppy of a win will it be? MTU wins 3-1
Cover photo courtesy Michigan Tech Athletics.
InStat plots created by Zach Aufdemberge.
One more thing…
If you have been paying attention in the Tech Hockey Guide discord in recent days you may have noticed that Zach and I have a little bet going on. We don’t exactly know what the stakes are yet (it’s looking like money going to charity right now), but we are competing this year to see who’s better at making hockey predictions. Right now there is no data available so all Zach could do was put zeros in for UMD and Tech but he did and we have our first week’s results here:
Zach will go into more depth at a later time and this is more of a teaser of what’s to come, so it’s subject to change in terms of presentation.
How to Watch
The game is available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (free), via NCHC.tv (paywall) for video. Saturday’s game will be at 8:07 Est.
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.