Another Three Point Weekend
The Michigan Tech Huskies earned themselves three WCHA points this weekend in another big series against a team above them in the PWR (see the note at the end of this section) and conference standings. In doing so, MTU has shown they can defeat the top teams in the WCHA and once again proven that they are ready for the big games in the next couple months. The Huskies gave Bowling Green their first home loss this season, flexing a strong record on the road. MTU now has 25 points in the WCHA, still in third place below the Minnesota State University Mavericks (29pts) and Bowling Green State University Falcons (27pts), but they are now in striking distance of both of those teams, as the Mavericks and Falcons face off next weekend. Tech now has the opportunity to gain ground on one or both of those teams while the Huskies host Lake Superior State for Winter Carnival on February 5th-6th, 2016.
Ultimately, the only way into the NCAA tournament for Michigan Tech is to continue to win. With four series remaining, all of them conference match-ups, every point will matter. Coach Pearson has been very steady and consistent with stating the need to get hot as the season progresses and to take care of our business. Over the last month, MTU has been skating with nationally-ranked teams and seems to be focused on finding ways to beat any team they face. On The Mel Pearson Show on Jan 25th, Pearson stated, “It’s continuing to play well so we’re playing our best hockey as we continue to roll into March”. It is not luck that Tech has been playing well; home ice for the WCHA playoffs is Coach Pearson's main objective.
In the national Pairwise rankings, MTU moved up to 21st (up from 23 before the weekend), but down from our one-time position of 19 this weekend). With one and a half wins over Bowling Green this weekend (a tie counts as a half win for PWR) coupled with teams outranking BGSU, such as Minnesota, losing this weekend, Tech continues to gain ground into the field of 16. Look for potential breakdowns throughout the remaining schedule by teams above Tech in the PWR, such as Nebraska-Omaha (#9) , who have tough remaining schedules. Nebraska-Omaha still has to face St Cloud State (#2), the University of North Dakota (#3) and Denver (#12). Losses by teams above the Huskies may still allow the Huskies to grab a last-minute at-large bid to the NCAA tournament
Some background information: The teams given bids to the Division I NCAA hockey tournament are determined by a mathematical system the top teams in the nation, with six automatic bids given to each of the six conference tournament champions. The Pairwise Ranking system (PWR) is the commonly referred to system which mirrors the NCAA system. Ideally, the top 16 teams in the PWR receive bids; however a conference champ will receive a bid regardless of PWR ranking. For those unfamiliar with the PWR in NCAA, you can go here and read more.
Special Teams Success
Michigan Tech continued to excel on special teams, going 2-3 on the power play this weekend with goals by Joel L’Esperance (9G 6A) and Alex Petan. MTU then built momentum Saturday with a 5-on-3 shorthanded goal by Reid Sturos (2G 4A) Saturday night. Michigan Tech still holds the WCHA-best 23.8% power play (#8 nationally) and is +6 on special teams this season. For this coming Winter Carnival weekend, look for special teams to be big opportunity for MTU, as Lake Superior State takes a lot of penalties
Players Stepping Up
As expected, MTU's first line was the major points-producer this weekend with a combined seven points. After the briefest of slumps, Alex Petan appears to be back at full goal scoring potential. Petan leads the WCHA in points with 25 (14G 11A) on the season and seems to be getting better. Coach Pearson noted on the Feb 1st edition of The Mel Pearson Show that Petan made at least one great move on Chris Nell (G, So. - BGSU), making the goalie bite in one direction while Petan went the other way for the goal. Sophomore Dylan Steman stepped up with a few points this weekend, and has been making a name for himself with seven points (5G 2A) on the year.
The Huskies were going to be needing production from more than just the first line in order to beat BGSU this weekend, and were fueled by the 5-on-3 short-handed goal by Reid "Rod" Sturos. Steman was also on the ice for that 5-on-3, and drew both the goalie and defenseman toward him for Sturos' shot. During The Mel Pearson Show before the BGSU series on Jan. 25th, Coach Pearson called out Sturos by name as someone whom he hoped would step up offensively, and he did, big-time. Simply killing off a 5-on-3 has been known to be a momentum changer, and scoring on the 5-on-3 as the short-handed squad is a huge swing in a game. Even the BGSU announcers on WCHA TV knew the flow of the game had been turned to Tech when Sturos scored with two men down. Look for that PK line to really gain some confidence and for it to extend to the fourth line of Max Vallis, Mike Neville and Reid "Rod" Sturos going into the series with LSSU for Winter Carnival.
On the other end of the ice, Jamie Phillips stepped up for 39 of 44 shots on the weekend. Phillips has returned to expected form the last several weeks and boasts a season 91.6 sv % and 2.12 GAA this season. With the win over BGSU on Saturday, Phillips has now tied Garry Bauman (1961-64) as the second-most winning goalie in MTU history at 48 wins. Bruce Horsch (1974-78) holds the school record with 58. Michigan Tech has eight regular-season games remaining this season.
THG Three MTU stars of the weekend:
- Dylan Steman (3G, 7SOG, +4)
- Alex Petan (1G, 2A, 4SOG, +1)
- Reid Sturos (1SHG, GWG)
Notes from the Mel Pearson Show
Still working on scheduling for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 seasons. Coach is always looking to schedule good teams for the best possible PWR matchups, but some series are already known at this point:
- 2016-2017: Non-conference series at Michigan State, Michigan and GLI.
- 2017-2018: Icebreaker Tournament, non-conference home series against Arizona State and Wisconsin
- Tyler Heinonen has been out since practice following the Desert Hockey Classic and won't be hurried back. Look for him to sit this weekend.
- Jake Jackson has been banged up this season, but is expected to return for the Winter Carnival Series
WCHA Wrap Up
North Star College Cup
Championship Game: St Cloud State University at Bemidji State University
Consolation Game: Minnesota State University at University of Minnesota
First Round: Minnesota State University at St Cloud State University
First Round: Bemidji State University at University of Minnesota
As predicted, Bemidji State came out strong against their in-state rival the University of Minnesota on Saturday evening. Three points by Markus Gerbrandt (F, Sr. - BSU) including the game winning goal and the empty netter to finish the game. BSU couldn't quite seal the deal on back to back North Star College Cup championships when they faced #2 St. Cloud State. St. Cloud has been an unstoppable force this year, averaging 4.39 goals per game (#2 nationally), while only allowing 2.07 goals against (#7 nationally).
Pittsburgh draftee Teddy Blueger (F, Sr. - MSU) scored three points (2G, 1A) in Sunday's matchup against Minnesota, including a nice snipe on the power play. Eric Schierhorn (G, Fr. – MIN) allowed three goals on 29 shots Saturday and another three goals on 26 shots Sunday. Schierhorn maintains a 91.4 sv % this season. Schierhorn has seen the majority of minutes for the Gophers this season.
Good news for Huskies fans: Two big wins against the University of Minnesota and the B1G by Bemidji State and Minnesota State means MTU improves in their PWR positon. Minnesota left the weekend dropping six PWR positions and outside the field of 16 due to the two losses. There is now only one B1G team in the top 16 PWR field (Michigan, at #4).
Bad news for Huskies fans: Minnesota State kept up with St. Cloud State on Saturday, with a back and forth game the Mavericks ultimately lost. MSU scored double the number of goals the St. Cloud State Huskies usually allow. The Mavericks have seen an offensive surge since they visit Houghton, with seven goals this weekend against two ranked opponents. Bemidji State showed again they are good in the games against ranked opponents, and Tech is now considered a ranked team. MTU travels to Bemidji following Winter Carnival, on February 19-20th.
University of Minnesota-Duluth at Northern Michigan University
Friday: 3-4, Saturday: 3-1
In an excellent non-conference match-up for Northern Michigan and the WCHA, the Northern Michigan University Wildcats and University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs each earned a victory. NMU held UMD scoreless on the power play over the weekend (0-11). Robbie Payne (F, So. – NMU) scored NMU’s lone PP goal on Friday. Coach Kyle chose to split his goalies this weekend. Atte Tolvanen (G, Fr. – NMU) stopped 36 of 39 on Friday, and Mathias Israelsson allowed two goals on three shots in 3:56 on Saturday before being pulled for Mathias Dahlström (G, Jr. - NMU) who completed the game stopping 18 of the remaining 19 UMD shots.
Good news for Huskies fans: Another WCHA non-conference win this weekend is good for MTU's bid to the NCAA tourney. NMU showed some vulnerabilities, too. MTU and NMU share a home-and-home to end the regular season on March 4-5th. Series with the Wildcats are always difficult, and Tech will be looking to do better than they did earlier in the season, when they split that series.
Bad news for Huskies fans: NMU always seems to have MTU's number when it comes to UP rival weekends. NMU has average numbers this season, 2.39 GPG and 2.28 GAA, but somehow scored four in a game against MTU in the last series. Hidden good news: MTU is a much better team now than they were at the beginning of the season.
#10 University of Alabama- Huntsville at #8 University of Alaska - Anchorage
Friday: 2-1, Saturday: 3-4
This was the only conference match-up of the weekend, and didn't have the must-see feel to it as the MTU-BGSU series or the North Star Cup. These two teams are near the bottom of the WCHA standings, fighting for the last WCHA Final Five playoff spot. The University of Alabama-Huntsville made the long trip up to Anchorage to trade wins with the University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves. Regan Soquila (F, Jr. - UA) scored two goals on Saturday. Matt Larose (G, Jr. - UAH) faced 61 total shots over the weekend, stopping 56 of them for a 91.8 SV% on the weekend.
Good news for Huskies fans: This series has more to do with who MTU is scheduled to play in the first round of the WCHA Final Five than anything else. Currently, MTU is set to host Bemidji State in the first round. If UAH can string together a few wins to finish the season strong and get into the WCHA playoffs, then Tech could host the much more preferable UAH Chargers instead.
Bad news for Huskies fans: Due to the Seawolves' sweep of Michigan Tech earlier in the season, MTU really needs Anchorage to win out the rest of the year. Splitting with the Chargers doesn't help MTU's PWR.
University of Alaska at University of Wisconsin
Friday: 3-4, Saturday: 2-5
Last season, Alaska was held out of the WCHA playoffs due to academic sanctions by the NCAA. Losses of some key skaters this season have brought the Nanooks down to the .300 win mark. Tyler Morley (F, Sr. - UA) has still been having a stellar season with two more goals on Friday, including one short-handed. Morley has 9G and 9A for a total 18Pts on the season.
Good News for Huskies fans: It is hard to find much good news in this series for the remainder of season. MTU does have Wisconsin on the schedule for future seasons, so hopefully future wins against the Badgers will result in better PWR rankings.
Bad News for Huskies fans: These were two non-conference wins the WCHA could have used this season.