The Michigan Tech Huskies (12-7-3) have reached the natural halfway point of the season, taking two weeks off before a critical weekend in Detroit for the Great Lakes Invitational. It seems like the season just started, yet MTU has only 16 games left before the postseason begins. This week we will take a look at where the Huskies stand and what we should look towards in the second half.
The first half of the year can pretty much be split into two eras: pre-Beef and post-Beef. Angus “Beef” Redmond became the full-time starter on October 28th, when the Huskies were sitting at 1-5-2, including an 0-4 start. Redmond has played every minute since, leading MTU on an 11-2-1 run that has elevated the team to a distant second-place standing in the WCHA and, more importantly, up to 23rd in the Pairwise. Redmond leads the nation in goals against average and sits 4th in save percentage.
In a season where freshmen goaltenders are the story of college hockey—11 of the top 16 goalies in save percentage are in their first year—Redmond is standing above them all. He may well be the leader in the clubhouse for the Mike Richter Award. In 14 starts, he has not allowed more than 3 goals and, incredibly, has allowed 1 or fewer in 10 of those games. This takes a great deal of pressure off of the offense, which has struggled at times.
The offense has been streaky thus far. They were relatively effective in November, including scoring 10 goals in a weekend against LSSU. In four games in December, they have mustered only 8 goals total. Part of this was facing an elite goalie in Bemidji’s Michael Bitzer on December 2-3, but they need to find ways to score against top-tier talent instead of relying on Redmond to steal games.
If there is one player the Huskies need to break out in the second half, it might be Joel L’Esperance. After scoring 16 goals in his sophomore campaign, the junior was expected to shine and lead the team in scoring. Instead, he has only mustered 6 goals (just one since November 5th) and has spent far more time in the box than ever before. MTU badly needs him to find his scoring touch again.
The Huskies have been pleasantly surprised by senior Chris Leibinger, who converted from defense to forward this year. His six goals plus strong defensive mind (Leibinger is +5 on the year) fit Head Coach Mel Pearson’s system perfectly. Not to be forgotten is sophomore Jake Lucchini who scored the game winning goal both nights against BGSU. Five of his seven goals have been the deciding goal, which leads the nation.
The defense has been the unheralded champion of this team as a result of Angus Redmond receiving most of the attention and credit. The Huskies have held their opponent to less than 24 shots per game and are winning well over 50% of faceoffs, which limits chances in dangerous areas.
Freshman Mitch Reinke has looked like an elite defender, possibly the Huskies best defensive player. Fellow defensemen Matt Roy (Jr.), Mark Auk (Jr.), and Shane Hanna (Sr.) are contributing just as much offensively as they are in their own zone. The defense has been the strength of the team at both ends of the ice and that needs to continue to be the case while pairing with an equally-effective offense if MTU is to find itself playing deep into March.
Michigan Tech is sitting in a relatively good spot, especially considering their 0-4 start. It would take a major collapse for them to finish outside the top 2 in the WCHA, which bodes well for their chances of making a run at the conference’s automatic bid.
The Huskies are 23rd in the current Pairwise, so they are still in the hunt for an at-large bid. In order for that to happen, they will need some help along with a near-perfect record down the stretch. The best-case scenario for MTU to make a big move in the PWR is to defeat Western Michigan (#10 in the PWR) in the GLI title game. This would get them a quality win bonus against a strong NCHC team.
We are still way too far out to be entirely sure how many losses the Huskies can endure, but they have some good opportunities coming up in the form of a pair of road games in early January against Notre Dame, and then a pair in Bemidji against the first-place Beavers in February. Trophy season is well within reach for this Michigan Tech team if they are able to take advantage.