After taking a break, with their last weekend off, Michigan Tech heads to Bemidji State to face the Beavers. Bemidji State is coming off a series split with Lake Superior State in Sault Ste. Marie. That split could mean BSU will be on the road for the WCHA playoffs, where MTU could end up their first round opponent. The Huskies remained #14 in both national polls and were nearly unanimous as the #1 team in the WCHA according to this week's THG Web Media Poll.
Bemidji State has done pretty well against their more difficult non-conference opponents, sweeping Minnesota-Duluth, taking a point from North Dakota and beating Minnesota at the North Star College Cup. Their luck hasn't been quite the same against the top of the WCHA, where they have no points against MSU or BGSU in four tries and are 1-2-1 against Ferris State.
Michigan Tech will likely have to find a way to score without expecting much on the power play this week, since BSU averages a league-low 9.2 penalty minutes per game and has the best penalty kill, not allowing a goal on 89.4% of PKs. Michigan Tech may try to force the tempo and draw penalties, something they haven't been able to do this season, despite their league leading 25% power play. MTU averages a league-low 3.27 power plays per game.
The good news is that Bemidji State has not been that strong offensively, averaging about 2.5 goals per game. Michigan Tech's defense, led by captain Cliff Watson and anchored by goaltender Jamie Phillips, should do well if current trends continue. The problem for MTU may be Bemidji's balance. Their top three scorers—Markus Gerbrandt (F, Sr.), Brendan Harms (F, Jr.) and Gerry Fitzgerald (F, So.)—are on different lines. The Huskies have plenty of depth so this shouldn't be a problem.
Fans who can't make it to Houghton will be able to watch on WCHA.tv or throughout Minnesota on public television. Friday's game will start at 8:37 PM Eastern and the puck will drop on Saturday at 8:07 PM Eastern.
Three Keys to the Game:
- Bemidji State has been a spectacular 3rd period team this year, scoring almost half of their goals in the final 20 minutes. Despite those great numbers, BSU is winless (0-5-2) when trailing after two periods. Meanwhile, MTU is more balanced but does score over 72% of their goals in the first two periods and is 13-2-1 when leading at the start of the third. The Huskies will likely need to have a lead heading into the third or it could be difficult to get the road win.
- The return of forward Tyler Heinonen last weekend and the availability of Jake Jackson should be huge to the Huskies continuing to score from all over the ice. Depth in scoring is always a key and this week is no different. MTU will hope for big moments from their top line of Petan-Steman-Gould, but Lucchini, Vallis and Heinonen could be just as important.
- Jamie Phillips has stepped up in 2016, allowing two goals or less in 7 of his last 8 games. He'll need to continue those great numbers and keep the Beavers off the score sheet as the race to 3 goals will be in full effect this weekend.
This series could be the most difficult left on the Huskies' regular season schedule and they shouldn't underestimate Bemidji State, but Tech has been great on the road. If the Huskies can take care of business this weekend, they'll be tied with the idle Mavericks for first place in the WCHA and have the inside track on the #1 seed and at least a share of the MacNaughton Cup for the first time since 1976.
Since Michigan Tech has been great on the road and Bemidji has struggled at home and ticket sales don't look very great online, I'm going to predict MTU gets 3 points. The Huskies win on Friday 4-1 and settle for the 2-2 tie on Saturday.