Weekend Preview: Top-ranked Huskies have tough challenge in Mavericks

What happened last weekend?

The then-No. 5 Michigan Tech Huskies traveled to face the Bemidji State Beavers, who were fresh off a pair of losses to the Minnesota State Mavericks. On Friday, with the game tied 0-0, junior C.J. Eick scored a shorthanded goal. Assistant captain Alex Petan scored the game-winner four minutes later as the Huskies skated to a 2-1 win. On Saturday, the Huskies trailed twice by a goal before sophomore Tyler Heinonen evened the game again. Petan and co-captain Tanner Kero scored in the third as the Huskies earned a 4-2 win.

The No. 9-ranked Mavericks had a week off after sweeping the Beavers the week before.

Is Michigan Tech really worthy of No. 1?

In this current college hockey environment, the Huskies have jumped out to a 10-0-0 start, something no Huskies’ team has ever done before. Sure the Western Collegiate Hockey Association is not filled with the Minnesotas and North Dakotas of the hockey world. However, the Huskies have already beaten the Ferris State Bulldogs, the team who won the WCHA regular season title last season, and the Michigan Wolverines.

This weekend, the Huskies face the Mavericks, a team that has beaten the Minnesota-Duluth. Those Bulldogs just swept the Golden Gophers last weekend. In other words, their schedule is filled with good opponents.

“It’s hard to go 10-0,” said head coach Mel Pearson. “There is so much parity in college hockey. Teams are so well-coached, so well scouted. Sometimes you wonder if you are having a dream.”

Just one more point of comparison, the Beavers, who the Huskies just swept, beat North Dakota, 5-1, in Grand Forks.

Community involvement

It has been over 40 years since the Huskies started nearly this well. The local community of Houghton, Hancock, and the surrounding areas has quickly become smitten with this edition of the Huskies, given their fast start.

“You can’t sweep it under the rug because all of our players are getting texts and emails,” said Pearson. “They can read papers and the internet. But good for them. I told them it’s good to be recognized for your hard work.”

Tanner Kero’s leadership

Kero, a senior, picked up a goal and three assists last weekend. Through 10 games, the Hancock native has four goals and 12 points, which leads the team.

What makes Kero’s start more impressive is the fact that he has been held off the score sheet three times.

“He’s got such good speed and such good work ethic that even if he’s not scoring, some way he is going to affect the game,” said Pearson. “He’s a consummate leader and he’s having a big year.”

Scouting the Mavericks

After struggling through their first couple of series with losses against Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota-Duluth, the Mavericks have rattled off five wins in their last six games. The team picked to finish first in WCHA, they currently sit tied for second with a 5-1-0 record in conference play.

“We have to dictate the tempo of play,” said Pearson. “Obviously they have outstanding forwards and we are going to have to make sure we shut them down as much as we can.”

The Mavericks have a deeply talented group of forwards led by junior Bryce Gervais. Gervais’ nine goals are tied for tops in the nation and his 14 points leads the team.

Senior Matt Leitner has two goals and a team-high 10 assists. Junior Teddy Blueger has also gotten off to a good start with six goals and 10 points through 10 games.

Senior Zach Palmquist leads the blueline corps. He pushes the pace of the game with his offensive skill set. He has three goals and 11 points thus far.

“You have to make him play in his own zone,” said Pearson. “When he is coming up the ice, you have to be aware that he will jump into the offense.”

Junior Stephon Williams has taken control of the crease after watching then-freshman Cole Huggins dominate the WCHA last season. Through eight games, Williams is 7-1-0 with a 1.95 goals against average and a 90.1% save percentage.

Both games this weekend will have 7:07 p.m. start times.

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.