Huskies’ confidence rising as they prep for Nebraska-Omaha

What happened last week?

The Michigan Tech Huskies returned to action last weekend at home against the Bemidji State Beavers. The Huskies had the MacInnes Cup, the trophy they won at the Great Lakes Invitational, on display, and perhaps that was what they needed as motivation because the Huskies took three of four points from the Beavers.

On Friday, the Huskies got two goals and an assist from winger Blake Pietila en route to a 4-0 victory. Goaltender Pheonix Copley earned his third shutout in his last five starts. Saturday, the Beavers stung the Huskies early, but could not hang on as the Huskies battled their way back to tie the game 2-2 on Pietila’s third goal of the weekend just 3:06 into third period.

What did the Huskies do well?

The Huskies jumped all over the Beavers on Friday night, forcing a perhaps rusty Beavers’ squad to chase the quicker Huskies’ forwards all over the offensive zone. They outshot the Beavers 17-8 in the first period alone.

Scoring-wise, the Huskies struck early when winger David Johnstone scored just 48 seconds into the contest. Pietila’s first came late in the first period as well.

“I thought we got off to a real good start,” said Huskies’ head coach Mel Pearson. “We were aggressive on our forecheck. We created turnovers…created a lot of good scoring opportunities. I don’t think we scored on our best opportunities.”

Pietila took control of the contest in the second period with his second goal of the night, proving that he was in better game shape this weekend than he had been against Minnesota Duluth the previous weekend.

“I was kidding him there that he didn’t score over there at the World Junior Tournament,” said Pearson. “So we weren’t sure if he knew where the net is and what to do. He’s back, and boy did he rip that second shot. Not many guys can shoot the puck there, and boy, he made no mistake.”

On Saturday night, the Beavers started out much stronger, outshooting the Huskies 15-3 in the opening frame thanks to three power plays, but their lone goal came while shorthanded.

Winger Ryan Furne helped jumpstart the Huskies with his second goal in three games on a well-placed shot over Beavers’ goaltender Andrew Walsh’s shoulder. With just 10 points through his first 22 games, Furne has struggled mightily. However, he has posted three points in his last three games, and may finally be turning the corner.

“That was a big, big goal for us,” said Pearson. “There wasn’t much going on and we needed some energy. He’s starting to play a lot better. Not that he’s been playing poor, but now he’s kicking in some goals. He’s always been a slow starter, but I’m hoping he’s going to be a strong finisher.”

What is the state of Huskies’ goaltending?

Thanks to Copley’s third shutout on Friday night, the Huskies have gone 3-2-1 since he regained the reigns back on Dec. 29. The team in front of him has also begun to play better, partially due to the confidence he seems to be instilling in them.

“All you can ask of him is to go out and give us a chance to win,” said Pearson. “Pheonix has proven that he can play. Now he just has to be more consistent.”

Copley’s road back from his early season victory over Minnesota hasn’t been an easy one. What was considered a strength at the beginning of the season, his ability to be unfazed by the speed of the game, quickly became a hindrance as he struggled to maintain his focus.

Goaltending coach Steve Shields went to work on Copley, teaching him, among other things, better practice habits. The routine has helped Copley bring the same intensity in practice that he does in games.

Senior Kevin Genoe held the Huskies together on the road early in the season when Copley struggled, but suffered from his own struggles at home. While he is 3-3-3 on the season, Genoe is 2-0-2 away from the friendly confines of the MacInnes.

Fellow freshman Jamie Phillips has only seen action in three games this season. While he was impressive in his lone start against Northern Michigan, he has not been able to crack the lineup again, leading to the possibility that he may not return next season.

“I feel better about our goaltending situation,” said Pearson. “I still wish I felt better even than I do. Kevin has won as much as he’s lost. Jamie’s the unknown, but he’s looked much, much better in practice. We use practice a lot to evaluate our players.”

What’s next for the Huskies?

The Huskies will participate Saturday night in an intersquad game at the Dee Stadium Saturday night. Pearson and his staff hope that they will be able to better simulate a game situation with this scrimmage.

Daver Karnosky

Daver has been around Michigan Tech hockey since his family moved to Houghton in 1983. A 2007 graduate of Michigan Tech who completed his Master's Degree in Rhetoric and Technical Communication in 2010, he has covered the Huskies as an arena reporter for USCHO.com for the last eight seasons. Daver has also covered Huskies' games for outlets such as the Daily Mining Gazette, Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Cloud Times, and the Michigan Tech Lode.