Going into this weekend, I took the chance to look back through my past 5(ish) years of covering our Michigan Tech Huskies. Even though they have made the National Tournament twice, this is my first time writing a conference championship preview. These past five seasons have seen our Huskies hit a major road bump come playoff time, but they have found a way to get rid of the preverbal monkey off the back. Meanwhile, the Bemidji State Beavers have found themselves rolling towards this moment ever since they last meant in January going 11-1-1 in February and March.  One team is going into this weekend very hot, while the other is making things work by the skin of their teeth. Let’s get started on this championship matchup.

Analysis

The road for BSU hasn’t been all that easy. Throughout this season, they have battled a myriad of injuries for key players while also missing others due to the IIHF world junior tournament. The point in saying all this is that this Beavers team is more or complete now than they where when Tech last played them, and they were playing down key players for that matchup. Looking at their top players we see:

The biggest thing of note is comparing the total games played between all the players. Out of the total 37 games played for the beavers, there has only been two players in Roed and Martin who have seen the ice every game. Otherwise, they have had to deal with injuries with players like Looft, Jutting, and Sholl or a leave of absence for international play in Pohlkamp and Kasper Magnussen (10 pts in 28 games played). They managed to get seemingly everyone back and played just at the right time to go on this historic run of theirs. This isn’t to assume players aren’t playing hurt in some capacity, but unlike our Huskies, BSU has more or less the whole team available this Friday. 

This by no means discredits what they have accomplished this season, as even with a fully healthy team at several points this season, Tech still barely managed to go .500. However, when it comes down to it, BSU should have more depth and a higher skill cap. 

Luckily since the Beaver’s didn’t play in Mankato last weekend, we actually have Instat data that Augie has graciously formatted for us (despite me asking last minute for it).

It does need to be addressed that out of the CCHA playoff teams, the Beavers didn’t play the toughest opponents and that is all by design. It just makes trying to judge how they will do against other teams more difficult, as it brings into question how hard they have been tested. First is their quarterfinal series against Ferris State, where they were able to come back in game one and lock out the Bulldogs in game two for a sweep. Next was LSSU, where the Beavers managed to control the entire game from start to finish which is very impressive. However, this LSSU team barely managed to beat a St. Thomas’ team that was already missing key skaters for their best of three quarter final series. 

This isn’t to say that the Beavers weren’t tested, but given everything, the odds were definitely in their favor (as they should be for being a 1 seed). 

This leads us to our coverage of the Huskies, who will be the best team BSU has seen since they swept Mankato at home back at the beginning of the month. Tech was the better team throughout the night, but Mankato was able to take any opportunity they were given. Tech played well, but in the end it was puck luck due to the randomness of hockey that determined a winner. 

The Chasing MacNaughton Podcast covered these goals and the subsequent reffing discussion due to such calls. I won’t try to fan the flames here, but I will give my quick opinion.  I personally think the Works kick goal should not have counted watching the game in person in real time. I also think the refs played too much of a role in the game as a whole due to their lack of calls for both teams. If that game was played in the beginning of the season, there would be double digit penalties called on both teams. Sadly (in my view), as a hockey season progresses the rule book becomes much less strict in enforcement. If something is a penalty in October, then it should also be called as such in March. 

There is going to be a cloud that hangs over this Tech win for the rest of this season by both Mankato and BSU fans due to the direct result it plays in the Championship match up. If Tech wins (even in a convincing fashion) BSU fans will point to the Semifinal game and say how the CCHA messed up and they should be playing Minnesota State. If Bemidji wins (even in a convincing fashion), Mankato fans will say how they should have been the ones to try to knock the Beavers off their CCHA throne. Either way the Huskies are in the wrong and to an extent I get it. Did our Huskies really earn this chance or was it given to them? To that I say that if Mankato truly was the better team and a fluke accident led to them losing, why didn’t they only manage to keep a one goal difference all game? Luck may have been the deciding factor, but it is because the Mavericks let it be. 

The data backs this up. I post the shot maps in the THG discord after every game and all three of Mankato’s goals have an xG of under 0.1. This doesn’t discredit the fine work of the Maverick goal scorers, but goes to show that Tech didn’t give much up in the way of chances statistically. On paper Tech performed better than Minnesota State, but hockey in practice is a lot more luck based than probability based. Like everyone else in the SDC that afternoon, my jaw was on the floor with only 9.1 seconds left to play. 

Keys to the Game

  1. Shut ’em down. The key to stopping the Beavers is going to come from their top guys. Tech needs to stop everyone listed above in order to have a chance. Both teams are averaging roughly 4 goals a game right now so I doubt it’ll be doable but if Tech can bend, but not break there is a chance.
  2. Watch out from the slot. Most of BSU’s high danger chances came from the slot against LSSU. What Tech will need to do is keep the Beavers to the parameter of the D zone to prevent any high danger chances from seeing Blake.
  3. Blake Pietila. This team has not helped Blake out when it comes to shots allowed on net these past two games. As a result, his save percentage has dropped a bit. This may or may not be his last game in the black and gold, but it will be up to the Tech skaters playing in front of him to at least give him a chance to determine his own future.

My Prediction

I think Tech will make the game competitive, but BSU is by far the clear favorite given how they have been playing and how they have access to all their top skaters. That being said, it really is the match of puck luck vs a well rounded team. If Tech’s bottom six can get things going, then I would choose them to take the victory, but after watching last week against Mankato, it was the depth mistakes or players playing hurt that almost cost Tech the win. The Huskies are just a more banged up team and as a result they need to lean on depth more than the Beavers. Sadly, I think that is more than enough to do them in and end their season. BSU wins 3-2.

The guys on our Chasing MacNaughton Podcast also made predictions for this coming series against the Beavers.

Cover photo courtesy Michigan Tech Athletics.

InStat plots created by Zach Aufdemberge

How to Watch

All games are available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (free), and via flohockey.tv* (paywall) for video. This single game series will be Friday at 8:07 ET .

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.

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