The Michigan Tech Huskies played host to the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers for Winter Carnival last weekend. The Chargers had never been to Houghton before, and the Huskies played rude hosts to the WCHA’s basement dwellers. The Huskies got a pair of goals from co-captain Blake Pietila and from assistant captain Tanner Kero to skate away with a 4-1 win Friday night. On Saturday, the teams were tied 1-1 after one period. The Huskies erupted for seven tallies in the second period en route to a 10-4 victory. The Alaska Nanooks had a weekend off after a pair of 6-1 victories over the Chargers themselves. Since getting swept by the Huskies in Fairbanks back on Nov. 29 and 30, the Nanooks have gone 7-5-2, putting them in a tie for sixth in the WCHA with 20 points. This weekend marks the last road weekend for the Nanooks prior to the weekend.
With everyone scoring, confidence is high
During the weeks in between the road and home Ferris State series, confidence was waning some among the Huskies’ skaters. A distinct lack of scoring had cost them the GLI title, one game against Lake Superior State and both games in Big Rapids.
The reinsertion of junior David Johnstone to the Huskies lineup has made a huge difference as the Huskies have now won five of their last six games. More importantly, several skaters have begun to find the net as the Huskies have scored 27 goals over the last six games.
Pietila has scored five goals and 12 points over this stretch. Freshman Reid Sturos has three goals and 10 points. Kero has three goals and four points.
“We need other guys to score,” said head coach Mel Pearson. “It can’t always be Alex Petan or Tanner. We need other guys to contribute.”
Secondary scoring has improved as well, with sophomore Malcolm Gould leading the way with his four goals and five points in his last five games.
“He had a good Bowling Green weekend,” said Pearson. “He’s found a little bit of a niche here for himself and getting himself on a little bit of a roll.”
Freshman Max Vallis, who has played in the team’s last four games, scored his first career goal Saturday night. He now has three points in his last three games after scoring just three in his previous 11 games.
“I think our team was really happy to see him score,” said Pearson. “He shoots the puck as well as anybody on our team. He has a really good stick. He’s smart. He makes good plays.”
With all this scoring, who needs penalty killing?
While Saturday night’s 10-goal romp marked the first time the Huskies had scored that many goals since 1993, and skaters like Vallis and assistant captain Dennis Rix scored in the game, one statistic proved to be disconcerning for Pearson.
The Huskies surrendered two goals in the third period. Two tallies are not really anything to worry about if they come five-on-five, but these two goals came on Chargers’ power plays. The Huskies surrendered two goals on three Chargers’ power plays in the game.
Considering the fact that the Chargers had the nation’s worst offense coming into the weekend along with the nation’s worst power play, they finished the weekend with two goals on five attempts.
“Goals are so hard to come by,” said Pearson. “Some nights your power play is not going to be there for you. Your penalty killing team better be. It’s a concern. We need to be much better on the PK. We should be operating at 90% or better. We have to shore that up going forward.”
A deeper look at the Nanooks
The Nanooks have had an up-and-down run during their first campaign in the WCHA. While they have been better of late, head coach Dallas Ferguson’s squad has been better at home than on the road all season. The Nanooks come into this weekend sporting a 4-6-2 record away from the friendly confides of the Carlson Center.
Senior Cody Kunyk leads the Nanooks in most offensive categories including goals (15), points (31), game-winning goals (5), and short-handed goals (2). Classmate Colton Beck has also played well as he leads the team with 17 assists on the season.
Sophomore Tyler Morley (12-12=24) and freshman Marcus Basara (11-9=20) give the Nanooks four players with at least 20 points. A pair of defensemen, sophomore Colton Parayko (4-15=19) and senior Michael Quinn (1-16=17) are both within three points of 20 as well.
“[We have to] keep their top players off the score sheet,” said Pearson. “It all starts around Cody Kunyk. They’ve gotten good complimentary play out of Beck. The couple of younger guys, Morley and Basara, are pretty good players.”
Like the Huskies, the Nanooks are still looking for one goaltender to take the reigns between the pipes. Sophomore John Keeney and freshman Davis Jones have each made 10 appearances on the season while junior Sean Cahill has played in eight games. Cahill played both games against the Chargers and owns a 4-3-1 record with a 2.24 goals against average.
“It’s all about how we play and how we keep those guys in check,” said Pearson. “We have to pressure them in there zone.”
Both games start at 7:07 p.m. at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.