If you were to ask me “who would have more wins going into week 3 of the season; Michigan Tech or Augustana?” I would have bet the farm on Tech. However, here we are week 3 of the NCAA men’s ice hockey season and our Michigan Tech Huskies are currently winless while the Augies have a full two wins already. Tech will continue their non-conference schedule against an up and coming Wisconsin team in the process of righting the ship after going astray for the past few years. New head coach Mike Hastings will return to the Copper Country, but sporting cardinal and white instead of purple and gold.
This Wisconsin Team is a bit of an enigma so far this season. They are 3-1, but two of those wins came against Augustana. That being said, with the sweep of Bowling Green it does add some weight to the Augies (not to be confused with THG’s own, better Augie). Additionally, they are 1-1 against more established programs, beating Bemidji State in a game where goaltender Mattias Sholl nearly stole the Beavers the game with a program record 57 save performance. Then the Badgers would go on to lose in Grand Forks to a markedly better North Dakota team. All this to say, we really don’t know the state of Wisconsin hockey at this point. Like Mike Hastings teams in the past, the roster looks very balanced in point totals and once again he has an anchor in net:
In addition to their new freshmen, the Badgers picked up some players in the transfer portal as well in Tyson Dyck (UMass); and three Minnesota State players in Christian Fitzgerald, David Silye, and Simon Tassy. They have all made meaningful impacts so far; it’s the upperclassmen leading the way, at least when point totals are being looked at. Junior netminder Kyle McClellan has been given the nod in net all season so far and has put up some great numbers on paper. However, like most things in life, there is a bit of nuance to his hot start.
After shutting out the Augies making a total of 43 saves on that particular weekend, his number returns to earth if you look at just the last two games he’s played. Here we find his numbers to be a GAA of 2.46 and a .894 SV%. Currently his numbers are boosted due to the Augustana series and I would think last weekend’s set of games is a better metric to judge him by, at least for now.
We can look to those previews games with our instat data as well to see if our hunches hold up:
Here we see a slightly different picture as the instat data shows that the Badgers were either the better team or very close to being the better team both days. In the BSU game it was solely Sholl keeping the Beavers competitive while the North Dakota defense and goaltending was up to the challenge shutting them out. One thing is certain though, this UW team is primed to take a lot of shots. Whether those shots are successful or not will be up to Tech’s defense and one Blake Pietila.
Speaking of Blake, his last three starts have had some ups and downs. It isn’t to say that his play has regressed, but more so that he looks human to start the season. One the defensive end, he hasn’t gotten much in the way of help with a few defensive misplays causes goals against. Additionally, the offense hasn’t yet started to click either. Its really tough to judge this Huskies team after only three games. Lines are still being worked through by the coaching staff and the college game is still being learned by several freshmen after being thrown into starting roles.
Saturday’s game was a good example of this as coach Shawhan scrambled the lines after a terrible Friday loss against Fairbanks. Here we saw some players seize the opportunity, with Kasper Vähärautio and Alex Nordstrom showing great potential both earning at least another look in this coming weekend. However, not everything was sunshine and rainbows as in life some players will need to take a step back and try to gear up for some meaningful improvement. These range across all lines and class years so there is no point in calling out one specific player other than to say that Logan Pietila is definitely not one of them after netting two goals and an amazing shootout goal in game two.
Only time will tell regarding what the lines will look like, but if I were to bet anything, I would expect some more line combos or on the fly shuffling. This team is still young and the coaching staff is still trying to figure out which forwards work best with one another. Add in the fact a large portion of the team are underclassmen and we are left with growing pains.
Keys to the Game
- Shot reduction. The Badger are going to pepper the Huskies net. They have been taking the approach of quantity over quality when it comes to a shot’s xG. Blake or Max is going to have their work cut out for them and the D corps will have to make sure to block as many as humanly possible.
- Defensive lapses. Wisconsin has had a few breakdowns in their defense zones so far this season. Most notably, both goals were given up to North Dakota. If Tech can replicate those scenarios I suspect they should see similar results.
- Depth Scoring. The Huskies have yet to find their scoring edge this season. Hopefully fans will get to see a taste of what they can do this weekend given a new series and a new set of chances. Lines 3 and 4 (regardless of whose on them) need to step it up and try to pot at least 1-2 goals this weekend.
If last weekend against Alaska didn’t happen the way it did I would have pegged Tech for a sweep this weekend, however they just aren’t there yet. Coach Hastings is familiar with coach Shawhan’s systems so its basically going to be CCHA hockey vs CCHA hockey (with a team of B1G players). Due to this and the growing pains of this team I see them taking at least one game but then dropping the other. MTU wins 3-1. Wisconsin wins 4-2.
The guys on our Chasing MacNaughton Podcast also made predictions for this coming series against the Badgers.
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. Game 1 will be Friday at 7:07 Est. Game 2 will be Saturday at 6:07 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.