Weekend Wrap: Huskies’ Season Ends in North Dakota

The 10th-seeded Michigan Tech Huskies traveled to Grand Forks, N.D., to face third-seeded North Dakota. The hosts did not play like the No. 4-ranked team in the country Friday and Saturday night, and found themselves facing elimination at the hands of the Huskies on Sunday. Unfortunately, the Huskies were unable to muster much in their third game in three days, coming up short in their quest for a second straight playoff upset.

Friday

The hosts came into the game riding a 13-game Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff winning streak. They jumped on the Huskies early, taking a 1-0 lead. David Johnstone had his season cut short with a nasty high hit at center ice. The Huskies picked up a 5-minute power play and Ryan Furne evened the game on the advantage. North Dakota took the lead back late in the period.

Early in the second period, Jacob Johnstone, who apparently only scores when his brother is hurt, carried the puck around the North Dakota net. Looking to find somebody in front of the net, Johnstone threw the puck in front, but found the back of the net instead of a teammate. North Dakota would again respond before the period ended.

In the third, North Dakota extended their lead to two. Shortly after, Alex Petan took 24 minutes’ worth of penalties in one sequence, leaving the Huskies two forwards short for the final 15 minutes. Riley Sweeney cut that lead in half with a blooper from center ice that confused everyone on the ice, including Zane Gothberg, the North Dakota goalie. Jacob Johnstone had a great chance to tie the game shortly after, but rattled a shot off the post. North Dakota would add another goal to complete the 5-3 victory.

Jamie Phillips made only 19 saves as the Huskies deserved a better fate than they received.

"I walk out of here feeling that we were the better team tonight," said Huskies’ head coach Mel Pearson. "We battled and battled and battled. We did a lot of things well, but it's the penalties, a bad turnover...we didn't keep the puck out of our net."

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Saturday

Neither starting goalie from Friday’s game saw action on Saturday. The Huskies nearly took a 1-0 lead on an early power play when Furne fired a one-timer at Clarke Saunders. The puck hit the back bar, but it did so on top of the netting, so it was determined to not be a goal. The Huskies lost Dennis Rix to a checking from behind penalty late in the opening frame.

Tanner Kero forced North Dakota to take a late period penalty, causing the second period to start four-on-four. After making a perfect pass to Blake Pietila, Kero crashed the net and tipped a one-timer from Pietila past Saunders just 20 seconds into the middle period. The Huskies got stronger as the period went on, and North Dakota was lucky to escape only down a goal.

The hosts stormed out to their best period of the weekend thus far in the third. North Dakota threw everything they had at Pheonix Copley, but the freshman frustrated them at every turn until a late faceoff. With five minutes left, a won draw allowed Danny Kristo to score his third goal of the weekend tying the game in the process. Huskies’ winger C.J. Eick flew down the right side of the offensive zone three minutes later and beat Saunders to regain the Huskies’ lead. Copley shut the door from there for the victory.

“We’re not surprised,” said Pearson. “They came out and gave a great effort. I like where we’re at. We earned this one.”

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Sunday

The hosts, fortunate to have survived this long, awoke with a stir to open the third game. In the first period, it became clear that North Dakota was not going to allow the Huskies any easy ice, outshooting the Huskies 18-5 and netting one goal.

In the middle frame, the Huskies played better, outshooting the hosts, 15-14. However, that was about all that went right for the Huskies, as North Dakota struck four times in just under 12 minutes to put the game out of reach.

The Huskies were a defeated team by the third period and were unable to muster much against the hosts. North Dakota struck once more and outshot the Huskies 12-8 in the final period.

“They were ready to play tonight, more ready maybe than we were,” said Pearson. “They had that extra step on us right from the get-go. They simplified their game. All they wanted to do was get pucks in and get it to the net. They were the better team.”

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Stick Salute

This weekend’s stick salute goes to goaltender Pheonix Copley. After struggling for much of the final quarter of the season, Copley saw his playing time go to Phillips, who won two key games down the stretch. On Saturday night, Copley came just 5:03 away from becoming the first Huskies’ goaltender since Michael-Lee Teslak to post four shutouts in a season. He did surrender six goals on Sunday, but none of the goals could be hung on him alone.

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.