The last time the No. 4 Michigan Tech Huskies faced the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers, the Huskies blew them off the rink to the tune of 11-1. The Huskies outscored the Chargers that weekend 16-1. Chargers coach Mike Corbett used that total as a message to his team. They listened, not perhaps because they wanted to, but because he forced them to.
The Huskies entered Friday night with every reason to think this would be the same Chargers squad. It was not, and that was evident by the way Carmine Guerriero played in goal. He made 76 saves on Friday night alone.
The Huskies would eventually win, 1-0. On Saturday, they took care of business from the drop of the puck to skate away with a 3-0 victory.
They will now face Bowling Green in the first WCHA semi-final on Friday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
The Huskies dominated long stretches of their first home playoff contest in 22 years. However, no matter what they tried, Guerriero was there, making the save. He would make 76 saves on the night, just 11 short of the NCAA record.
The game became the longest in Michigan Tech history 2:28 into the second overtime.
Co-captain Tanner Kero thought he had put the Huskies ahead in the second period on a power play, but a quick whistle kept the hosts off the board.
Co-captain Blake Pietila had a chance to put the Huskies ahead in the third, but his shot, which beat Guerriero between the legs, slid past the far post.
The Huskies finally broke through with 1:11 left in the third overtime. Defenseman Mark Auk fired a shot from the left point. Winger Max Vallis tipped the shot wide of the net and right to winger Tyler Heinonen. Heinonen showed poise moving to a better scoring angle and beating Guerriero.
“I give Alabama-Huntsville a lot of credit,” said coach Mel Pearson. “We couldn’t score. I thought their goaltender was outstanding. I thought we were a little off tonight.”
Blake Hietala, one of five Huskies who did not play Friday, scored the game-winner for the Huskies Saturday when he picked up the rebound off the back boards of a shot from Kero and deposited the puck in the net at 14:35 of the first period while the Huskies were on the power play.
Kero scored in the second period on another Huskies power play. Hietala fed the puck to Heinonen, who fired a shot that hit the right post before deflecting through the crease and right to Kero, who buried the rebound at 4:43.
Auk capped the scoring for Huskies in the third when he intercepted Guerriero’s clearing attempt. With the Chargers’ goalie racing back to the net, Auk fired a shot through traffic that beat him at 5:45.
“[The Chargers] really played well,” Pearson. “They came in here and they played extremely hard. I think they taught us something.”
This week’s Stick Salute goes to Jamie Phillips. Phillips made 32 saves on Friday in 119:44 of action. He had to match Guerriero save for save despite seeing less than half as many shots. On Saturday, he saw plenty of action in the second, but not as much in either the first or third periods. By holding the Chargers at bay, he increased his total to 179:39, which is currently fifth all time in WCHA playoff history.
“Jamie Phillips has just been so good for us all year,” said Pearson when asked about his goaltender. “I am really pleased with how the weekend went.”