Scouting the Huskies and the Bulldogs

What happened last weekend?

After surrendering a goal just 15 seconds into the second period to break open a scoreless tie, the Huskies used three goals from sophomore Alex Petan to edge the Laurentian Voyageurs, 3–2, Saturday night at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena. The Huskies dressed five lines and seven defensemen, so ice time was at a premium, but they all combined to outshoot the visitors 59–21.

The Minnesota–Duluth Bulldogs carried a 3–1 lead into the third period before turning on the jets, outshooting the Lakehead Thunderwolves 19–2, and notching four goals to come away with a 7–1 win. Freshmen Dominic Toninato and Kyle Osterberg each had impressive debuts as the former scored twice and the latter added a goal and two assists.

What did the Huskies do well?

No Jujhar, no problem on offense for the Huskies. Despite the loss of the Khaira to the professional ranks, the Huskies might be deeper up front than they have ever been. Petan’s three goals aside, the Huskies turned in strong efforts from junior Tanner Kero, sophomore C.J. Eick, who had a shorthanded breakaway chance, and junior captain Blake Pietila, who was skating at center for the first time in several years.

While Pietila will not remain at center this upcoming weekend, head coach Mel Pearson was happy with most of what he saw from the veteran forward.

“You didn’t notice the bad things, like blown coverage, in your own zone first and foremost,” said Pearson. “He is used to having the puck and holding on to it. He didn’t do a good job of distributing it. It’s an experiment, we know he can play center now and do fine.”

The Huskies will dress three freshmen on the blueline this weekend. All three saw significant action Saturday night, and all three did what was asked of them. Chris Leibinger showed a physical edge as well as an accurate shot as his initial blast led to Petan’s first goal.

“We got a real sense of the bite that he plays with,” said Pearson. “He’s not afraid to mix it up, and then he’s got some skill on the blueline. [He has] a good shot, [which] led to our first goal.”

Shane Hanna proved that he was not intimidated by the speed of the college game. His offensive flair was on display throughout the night as he worked to manage the power play with sophomore Walker Hyland.

“He wants to go go go with the puck,” said Pearson. “He’s got a real nice way about him on the ice.”

Cliff Watson, while it may be awhile before he finds the scoresheet, did a lot of the little things well. After participating the NHL’s San Jose Sharks rookie camp this summer, Watson was informed of what he would need to work on in order to remain a viable prospect. He took their advice to heart, and should develop into a strong two-way defenseman with a solid first pass.

What do the Huskies still need to work on?

The game against the Voyageurs exposed two early season issues the Huskies have been focusing on this week in practice: the power play and the defense. Of the two, the defense will likely need the most work, mainly due to the fact that the Huskies will be dressing three freshman on a nightly basis for the first six weeks of the season. Off-season surgeries for senior Daniel Sova and junior Justin Fillion, paired with the loss of junior Jimmy Davis this week, hamper an already depleted corps.

“We need to be better defensively,” said Pearson. “The upperclassmen struggled, more than the freshmen. They are just not where they need to be at this point.”

The power play needs work, but it is mainly repetitions the Huskies need at this point. The Huskies went 0-for-5 Saturday, but it was not as though they did not have scoring chances. As Petan, Kero, and Pietila regain their chemistry, and senior Ryan Furne and junior David Johnstone get their games in order, the Huskies will be better than they are at the moment.

“Our power play needs lots of work,” said Pearson.

The inside scoop: a look at the Bulldogs

While they are no longer WCHA foes, the Bulldogs remain a formidable opponent for any team this season. Outstanding sophomores Austin Farley and Tony Cameranesi tied with then-senior Mike Seidel to lead the Bulldogs in scoring last season. Both will be leaned on to do the heavy lifting again this season.

“They are fast, physical, and play with an edge,” said Pearson. “They are just a good, solid overall team with a couple of very talented players. Cameranesi and Farley had big years for them last year.”

The Bulldogs return nearly their entire defensive corps as well, as only Wade Bergman  and Drew Olson are gone thanks to graduation. Sophomore Andy Welinski and junior Chris Casto will likely move into larger roles this season.

Sophomore Matt McNeely supplanted senior Aaron Crandall last season as the team’s top goaltender, but head coach Scott Sandelin expects the latter to return to form this season, as does the rest of the country.

This will be a tough early season test with every nonconference game meaning so much late in the season as teams vie for a place in the NCAA Tournament. Both games will start at 8:07 p.m.