Series Preview: Michigan Tech @ Alaska

Michigan Tech (7-6-3) finishes its two-week Alaskan adventure with a pair of games in my hometown of Fairbanks against the Nanooks (4-7-1). This is the only time Alaska and Michigan Tech will meet this year, barring an encounter in the postseason. The Huskies are coming off a slightly disappointing weekend against the UAA Seawolves, taking only four of six points after losing the shootout in Saturday’s tie.

Jake Lucchini takes a shot against the Nanooks last Spring (Photo credit: Ryan Johnson).

Jake Lucchini takes a shot against the Nanooks last Spring (Photo credit: Ryan Johnson).

Scouting Report

If you watched Friday’s game, it was clear early that Tech was the superior team. They controlled the entire first period, outshooting UAA 14-2 and did not allow a shot until the 18:45 mark of the first. Everything changed when Mark Auk (D, Jr. - MTU) handed over a puck in the slot to an Anchorage forechecker during a MTU power play. Goaltender Angus Redmond (Fr. - MTU) made a rare bad decision with his stick, trying to poke check from way out of the crease, which the UAA player Mason Mitchel (F, So.) easily avoided to slide the puck into the empty net.

After that, the Seawolves started to play with confidence and the referees began to take over the game. The entire second period seemed to be played with someone in the box; 31 penalty minutes were assessed. This prevented any flow from being established and killed all momentum the Huskies had early on. They never really recovered for the rest of the weekend, mustering only 2 goals over those final five periods plus an overtime session. The Huskies need to regroup from this strange absence of scoring against a weak defensive squad and go to the Carlson Center with a sense of urgency.

Michigan Tech will meet a middling Alaska squad that has held its own with some quality teams: Nebraska-Omaha to overtime in October and splitting with Minnesota State and Lake State later in the month. The Huskies and Nanooks know each other quite well, having met six times last year, including the first round of the WCHA playoffs in Houghton. MTU took the win in each one of those games and over the last three years hold a 10-2 advantage head-to-head.

This year’s Alaska team already appears to be stronger than the 2015-2016 team that only picked up 10 wins all season. While they have no real stars, their offense is deep – 16 players have multiple points already this season, a vast difference from the team the Huskies just finished playing against. Angus Redmond will face a taller task this weekend. A few players to keep an eye on: Senior winger Marcus Basara (UAF), who has averaged over ten goals a season in his first three years; and Sophomore center Chad Staley (UAF), who already appears to have made a big leap from a forgettable five-point freshman campaign to be tied with Basara as the team leader in points with nine.

Another guy always worth mentioning is medical redshirt junior defenseman Justin Woods (UAF). Homegrown in Fairbanks, Woods, 22, is one of college hockey’s feel-good stories and a hero in the Fairbanks hockey community. He missed his sophomore year with a rare form of bone cancer, Ewing’s Sarcoma. He fought for his life and hockey career, and incredibly, returned for the beginning of the ’15-’16 campaign cancer-free and ended up playing 34 of the team’s 36 games. Woods is a good reminder that life is more than just about hockey, but sometimes it can be a great medicine. Root for the Huskies this weekend, but feel free to cheer him on a little bit as well.

Enough preaching, let’s get to the keys:

Keys to the Game

  1. Focus on strengths. While Alaska is not particularly strong in any area, they do not have any notable weaknesses. Slightly above average on the PP (20th nationally) and slightly below on the PK (32nd), and in the lower third in the nation in scoring and goal prevention (39th and 47th, respectively), they are an inferior opponent to MTU but there is no area where the Huskies should specifically attempt to exploit. This could be good because instead of making a game plan to do something specific, like shut down an opponent’s first line or power play, they can simply play their game with the knowledge that it should be enough to win. Simplification could be the key this weekend.
  2. Forget about Anchorage. Simply put, it was a weird weekend with some really bad timing, a fluky goal, and highly-questionable officiating. The Huskies still managed to pull out a win on Friday even through the struggles they faced in the latter 40 minutes of that game, showing that this team continues to improve. They need to forget about Saturday’s tie and go home with ten points.
  3. Use the Olympic ice wisely. Tech will have spent this whole week in Alaska, so between Anchorage and Fairbanks, they will have had more than enough practice on Olympic ice. The Huskies’ offense relies on speed, so the large ice should open up space for forwards. On the flip side, the MTU defense is not particularly suited to play on this size sheet. They like to block shots and collapse the box to keep shots to the outside, but that becomes more difficult. A week of work between Sullivan Arena and the Carlson Center should give Head Coach Mel Pearson plenty of time to use the large ice to their advantage without being inhibited by it too much.

Prediction

Even with a disappointing tie on Saturday night, Michigan Tech is quietly rolling/ The Huskies are 6-1-1 in their last 8 games. The upperclassmen have historically done well against the Nanooks, and I think this unbeaten streak against Alaska continues through this weekend. Tech sweeps, 3-2 on Friday and 2-0 on Saturday. Both games start at 11:07pm ET.