Michigan Tech returns to action after a week off and remains #17 in the USCHO Poll. They'll travel to #18 Bowling Green, this weekend, to battle it out before what should be a packed house. Since the reshuffling, these two teams have started to build a bit a rivalry, starting with six games back in 2013-14, culminating in BGSU's sweep of MTU on their way to the WCHA Final Five. That season series wrapped up with the Falcons carrying a 3-2-1 record against MTU. The Huskies returned the favor last season, ending the Falcons' season with a 5-2 win at the WCHA Final Five and now they meet again with the recent series tied 5-5-1.
Michigan Tech hopes to continue their stellar defensive efforts with Jamie Phillips having only allowed more than two goals in a game once over his last 8 starts. That, combined with an excellent save percentage of 93% over that stretch, and it seems he's finally returned to the form many expected after his 2014-15 campaign. While it appears likely that Tyler Heinonen will miss action again this weekend after an injury during practice before the Minnesota State series, Mel Pearson has to be happy to see his leading scorer, Alex Petan, back on the score sheet, after a four game absence. Petan probably felt great getting the monkey off his back scoring the only goal in the shootout of the Desert Hockey Classic Championship, because it showed with him scoring three beautiful goals against MSU and if the Huskies want to win this weekend, they'll need a solid effort from him and his linemates, Malcolm Gould and Dylan Steman.
Due to injuries, Michigan Tech is also likely to need some scoring from others who may not normally get opportunities. Look for players like Mason Blacklock, Patrick Anderson, or Max Vallis to take advantage of their playing time and push the Huskies to victory.
Bowling Green has a very balanced offense, despite no player being in the top 100 nationally in points per game, they still managed to score the third most goals per game of any team in the WCHA. Despite not having any player over 17 points, they have the same number of players in double digits (10) as MTU. The line of Brandon Hawkins (So.) (8G, 8A), Tyler Spezia (So.) (7G, 4A), an Mark Cooper (Sr.) (10G, 6A) could be a real threat and will likely see the Huskies top defensive pairing when possible.
While the offense has look good for the Falcons, where they have really shined, is on defense. Chris Nell (1.46 GAA, 0.943 SV%) has been spectacular in helping BGSU into the top five best nationally in goals allowed per game. His save percentage is the best in the country and the team around him has done a spectacular job of limiting opponents chances by only allowing a little over 24 shots per game when he's between the pipes.
Three Keys to the Game:
- Michigan Tech's top ranked (25.4% in WCHA) power play and offense in general will have to find a way to break through the wall that is Chris Nell if they expect to win the race to three goals. It will be difficult for them to spend much time with the man advantage because BGSU has been pretty stingy, taking less than 10 minutes in penalties per game. But if they get their chances, the Huskies should do well as they're 11-0-1 when scoring at least three goals and 2-7-3 when they don't.
- Home and road splits can be very telling. Michigan Tech has been spectacular on the road this season, going 9-3-3 when not at MacInnes Student Ice Arena, but Bowling Green has been almost as good at home, tallying a mark of 8-2-4. Will the Huskies be able to quiet the Bleacher Creatures and continue their road success or will Chris Nell (G, So. - BGSU) shut them down and feed off the crowd on their way to victory?
- While the stars may shine at times for both teams, this kind of match up seems like a great opportunity for someone to surprise in what's normally a limited role to surprise and excite. Will Blacklock, Vallis, or Anderson find a way to contribute or will someone like Falcons captain Sean Walker (D, Jr.) score a huge goal that would be the tenth of his career to end the stalemate in this series? Only time will tell, but it's unlikely for either team to gain an edge this weekend without production from players outside their top six forwards.
Top to bottom, this is a match up of two teams that probably expected a little better at this point and both are still hoping to find a way to climb the pairwise rankings and increase their chances of earning a spot in the NCAA tournament.
On Friday, Michigan Tech takes an early lead and holds on for the 3-2 win while Bowling Green recovers on Saturday to salvage a point in a 2-2 tie.