Michigan Tech finally heads home for a series at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena after a rough first two weekends on the road where the Huskies struggled in many areas leading to an 0-4-0 record.
Many would expect hosting Alabama-Huntsville to solve many problems and normally that would be true, but right now, the Chargers sit in a 3-way tie for first in the WCHA after sweeping Ferris State on the road. UAH came back to earth last weekend getting shutout twice in another road series at Connecticut, but it's likely to be a far tougher series than the last few years would predict.
There have been some interesting lineup choices for the Huskies so far, with Mel Pearson choosing to start senior Chris Leibinger, traditionally a blue-liner, as winger twice this year because of the wonderful depth on defense. That depth doesn't exactly seem obvious looking at the statistics when MTU has been outscored 17-4 through four games, but a closer look reveals that the Huskies did not allow a single goal while playing 5 vs 5 to Minnesota State and that only 6 of their 17 goals against have come when the Huskies were at full strength.
There is certainly room for improvement, but most of that must come with discipline. College hockey, and especially the WCHA, are making an effort to open up play and with that will be some growing pains between referees, players and coaches in understanding what will be called and what won't. The Huskies are one of the worst in the country so far, currently ranking fourth in penalty minutes per game, and would still be ranked 13th if you ignored the 20 minutes worth of penalties for game misconducts issued in the series with Minnesota-Duluth.
Alabama-Huntsville is again on the road this weekend and it's hard to really analyze what they've done so far with such a drastic difference in results between their first two series. Matt Larose (Sr., G) has been the starter all four games for the Chargers, with a 0.900 or better save percentage in both games at Ferris State and below 0.876 in both losses to Connecticut. Junior forwards Max McHugh and Brennan Saulnier lead all scorers with 2 points, which isn't a surprise since they were the leading returning players from last year's team.
Since its so early in the season, let's just get to the keys.
Three Keys to the Series:
- Find a way to play to the style the referees are calling. As mentioned above, Michigan Tech's discipline has been extremely questionable to start the season. The Huskies have not managed to get all the way through their first four shifts without a penalty. Getting put on their heels and preventing game flow has been a problem thus far.
- Special teams must be better. Without being able to solve Key #1, the Huskies must be better on the special teams. Michigan Tech has only scored 1 power play goal on 25 chances and allowed 9 on 31 chances. That's good for fourth-worst combined special teams in the country. MTU was one of the best last year, and if they want to succeed like last year, this will have to change.
- The first goal will be very important for the Huskies to make sure they set the tone for this series. Falling behind early could set them too far back with the struggles of the last few weekends. Not taking any early penalties and getting the first goal should pave the way to a victory both nights.
Home ice has been important for MTU for years and this will be no different. Getting to play in front of Mitch's Misfits, the Huskies Pep Band and the locals should give the Huskies a boost. The Huskies special teams' home/road splits were drastic in the second half of last year so it would seem like a little bit of home cooking could go a long way to help the Huskies solve many of their problems. The ability to make more changes in the lineup and dress three goalies could also be helpful in giving more players a chance to play, including rookie goaltender Angus "Beef" Redmond.
Despite their struggles through the first two weekends, I still believe Michigan Tech is a top-20 team in the country and once they get the penalties under control, the rest will work itself out and they will host a WCHA playoff series. Remember, both Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State are top 15 teams with great success in their own buildings.
Huskies sweep the series with a 4-2 win Friday and a 5-1 win on Saturday and get back on track.
John Scott will be in the building this weekend in recognition of his NHL All-Star game accolades from last season. He will appear in the Huskies Pep Band concert at 8:30 on Thursday in the Rozsa center. On Friday, the Blue Line Club will be hosting a luncheon with him (admission open to the public, $10/person). Later in the evening, the Huskies will have a ceremonial puck drop with Scott and his family before the start of Friday's game. He will also be signing posters for fans during the first intermission. Further, the first 1,000 fans on Saturday night will get a free MacNaughton Cup t-shirt.