Michigan Tech was on bye this weekend after completing the Winter Carnival sweep over Lake Superior State. As the end of the regular season is quickly approaching, the bye weekend is a good opportunity for Tech to recover from injuries and plan strategy for each ever-more-important series. MTU has gone undefeated (5-0-3) since the GLI and the new year. Elsewhere in the WCHA this weekend, key points earned elsewhere may greatly affect the Huskies. Each team in the league is battling for something at this stage of the season, whether it be the MacNaughton Cup, home ice in the WCHA playoffs or simply a playoff spot. The remaining three weeks of conference play should turn out very exciting.
First Seed Within Reach
The Huskies now have a direct route to the first seed in the WCHA Final Five through control of their own destiny. In two plays on two separate nights, the #10 University of Alabama- Huntsville stole two points from #1 Minnesota State University, drastically changing the landscape of both the top and bottom of the league. As it stands today, MTU would receive the WCHA Final Five first seed by winning out the remainder of the season.
Both MTU and Bowling Green are now four points below MSU with two games in hand on the Mavericks. Should two or three of the top teams end up tied for points at the end of the season, there are several levels of tiebreakers. MTU already has the tiebreaker win over BGSU (by going 2-1-1 against the Falcons in four conference matchups). By winning the remainder of games this regular season, MTU would have two more conference wins than MSU, winning the second tiebreaker level over the Mavericks. This tiebreaker is still in flux however. An important note: if there is a points tie for first, each team would own a share of the MacNaughton Cup, the tie breakers are only for playoff seeding. As always, Head Coach Mel Pearson’s focus on winning every game is going to be important.
Opponent Wrap Up
Each opponent that Michigan Tech has faced this season has had an impact on the team. Some teams have had a greater impact than others, both positively and negatively. Below is a wrap up of the seasons of four such teams that MTU has faced or will face again.
The Bemidji State Beavers
Tech’s next opponent has shown that they can win against the big teams. The Beavers’ 5-2-1 non-conference record has significantly helped MTU and the WCHA in the Pairwise standings this season (those unfamiliar with the pairwise can read up on it here). The Beavers swept the University of Minnesota–Duluth Bulldogs (PWR #22) this season, defeated the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (PWR #16) and tied the University of North Dakota (PWR #3). Middle of the pack in both the PWR (#34) and the WCHA (#6), BSU has shown an uncanny ability to win against local rivals deemed “bigger” than they are.
The impressive resume this season for the Beavers is built on their high-caliber special teams play. BSU boasts a nationally fourth-ranked penalty kill at 89.8%, coupled with a nationally 17th power play of 20%. Bemidji State has only allowed 5 goals on the penalty kill in 49 attempts since the beginning of 2016, denying St. Cloud State on both opportunities in their matchup during the North Star College Cup in January. St. Cloud State has a national best 30.3% PP.
The BSU Beavers have the potential to put a 20+-point scorer on each of their top three lines. Markus Gerbrandt (F, Sr. – BSU), named the Feb 1st WCHA player of the week, leads the first line and has 22 points on the year. A trio of Fitzgerald brothers typically make up Bemidji’s third line. Gerry Fitzgerald (F, So. – BSU) has 22 points on the year while Leo (F, So. – BSU) and Myles (F, So. – BSU) have another combined 13 points. These players have recorded points in the major BSU victories this season, so keeping them off the scoresheet will be crucial for MTU this weekend.
The epitome of a team that plays to the level of their competition, Bemidji State has dropped games to many WCHA foes, including being shut out by the Lake Superior State Lakers last weekend. BSU has not yet been eliminated from the possibility of home ice for the first round of the WCHA Playoffs, so expect them to come out strong against MTU this weekend.
Northern Michigan University
The NMU Wildcats are Tech’s final opponent this season. Michigan Tech and Northern have already split a home-and-home series in October. That October series was an early split in a season of splits and ties for the all-around average Wildcats. NMU has split seven of twelve WCHA series this season, with no real trend towards winning on Friday or Saturday night consistently. The Wildcats have not been on any win or loss streaks greater than a few games, so they have not had any extreme highs or lows this season. Due to the Wildcats' inconsistency this season, any weekend could result in an upset. In October, Northern put up 46 shots on Jamie Phillips (G, Sr. – MTU) in their win over MTU on Friday night.
The Wildcats are only two games over .500 on the season. That said, their 10-8-4 WCHA record has been good enough to put NMU on the cusp of the home ice bubble for the WCHA Playoffs. This past weekend, the #5 Wildcats split with #4 Ferris State to keep their home ice hopes alive. More importantly for MTU perhaps, they took two points from the Ferris State Bulldogs who are on the heels of MTU.
When discussing individuals on the NMU roster , the Wildcats' goaltenders are usually the first thought. The arrival of freshman goaltenders Atte Tolvanen (G, Fr. – NMU) and Mathias Israelsson (G, Fr. – NMU) have taken time away from the proven Mathias Dahlström (G, Jr. – NMU). Tolvanen has seen the majority of minutes this season and has a team best 92.9 SV%. On the other side of the ice, Dominick Shine (F, Jr. – NMU) has been outstanding with 12G, 13A, 84SOG and +7. Shine and Darren Nowick (F, Sr. – NMU) have been leading the Wildcat first line. Nowick is the NMU points leader with 27 points this year.
University of Alaska – Anchorage
The UAA Seawolves are a potential WCHA first-round opponent, and a team that the Huskies would like a rematch with. Anchorage swept MTU in early December, the only sweep for the Seawolves this season. The Seawolves are 10-15-3 on the season, and rank near the bottom of the WCHA in nearly every statistical category. Anchorage gives up a league-worst 3.11 goals per game. The two MTU losses to UAA this season have been considered Tech's low point for this season. Those two losses have been considered the reason for MTU’s drop in PWR and national polling favor. There is no doubt that MTU would like a rematch.
While the Anchorage points leader is senior Blake Tatchell (F, Sr. – UAA), the remaining top-five scorers for the Seawolves are all sophomores. Look for these underclassmen to develop in the next several years. So far through the 2015-2016 season, UAA only has one double digit goal scorer, Tad Kozun (F, So. – UAA). Tatchell is UAA's only 20+ point player to date.
It was a strange set of events for MTU in December, as the Huskies were the team traveling to Houghton from Alaska. Coach Pearson has since spoken highly of the level of the Huskies' play that weekend, but the travel was ultimately too much. Tech has been fighting the uphill battle to come back from these losses.
WCHA Wrap Up
#1 Minnesota State University at #10 University of Alabama-Huntsville
Friday: 3-3 OT, Saturday: 1-1 OT
It only took two breakdowns by the MSU Mavericks to lose out on two valuable points this weekend. On Friday with a delayed penalty, Cole Huggins (G, Jr - MSU) went to the bench for the extra skater. There was nothing he could do to stop a stray pass which would go in for the then go-ahead goal (see the video below). Saturday was a lock-down defensive game for the Mavericks, aside from a late third period short-handed breakaway goal which would tie the game. It was Matt Salhany (F, Jr - UAH) with the SHG at 18:57 in the third.
Good News for Huskies Fans: Tech is now within striking distance of the first seed for the WCHA playoffs.
Bad News for Huskies Fans: MSU looked good both games. Aside from two bad plays, they dominated the games both nights. Do not mistake these ties for the Mavericks falling apart.
Bemidji State University at University of Minnesota-Duluth
BSU continued to surprise against local rivals in this make-up game from Oct. 9th. BSU completed the sweep over the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs this past Tuesday with a 2-1 victory. There was no surprise that Markus Gerbrandt and Gerry Fitzgerald were on the score sheet, as it seems those play makers need to score for the Beavers to have the opportunity to win, and Adam Johnson (F, Fr. - UMD) slipped a rare one past Michael Bitzer (G, So - BSU) on the power play.
Good News for Huskies Fans: Wins over the NCHC like this one are great for MTU's PWR as well as the league as a whole
Bad News for Huskies Fans: BSU seems to play to the level of their opponent. Tech travels to Bemidji for this weekend's series.
#5 Northern Michigan University at #4 Ferris State University
Friday: 1-5, Saturday 3-2
Atte Tolvanen and Mathias Dahlström split time this weekend, both seeing 35+ shots thrown at them by the FSU Bulldogs. Northern is now trailing Ferris State by four points for home ice. With six regular season games remaining, including two each against LSSU and UAH, the Wildcats could be looking to make a home ice run. Meanwhile, Ferris State is still within striking range of the WCHA top tier. At 28 points, the Bulldogs could yet overcome BGSU or MTU with the right chain of events.
Good News for Huskies Fans: Tech has two games in hand on FSU, so the Huskies have that potential advantage over the Bulldogs. Ferris State also still has to face Bowling Green again, which could end well for Tech in the WCHA standings any way it plays out.
Bad News for Huskies Fans: With all the talk promoting MTU as being in a position for first seed in the WCHA playoffs, Tech has not yet clinched home ice for the WCHA playoffs. Ferris State could still surpass the Huskies in the standings.
#7 Lake Superior State University at #6 Bemidji State University
Friday: 1-2, Saturday: 3-0
Two low-scoring affairs in Bemidji this weekend. As noted in our series preview from Winter Carnival, scoring that first goal on Lake State is crucial, and Bemidji State was able to do that on Friday. Saturday however, Gordon Defiel (G, So. - LSSU) got the shutout, his second of the year and LSSU's fourth, for their 10th season win. Defiel was helped by two empty net goals. The second empty net goal was by Gage Torrel (F, Fr. - LSSU) who had the penalty shot goal against Jamie Phillips on Saturday of Winter Carnival.
Good News for Huskies Fans: Bemidji is an up-and-down team this season, winning against ranked rivals and losing to teams lower in the WCHA standings.
Bad News for Huskies Fans: BSU may have been tired Saturday, playing their third game in a week. Expect a well-rested Beaver team for this weekend's matchup
University of Miami (Ohio) at Bowling Green State University
One more in-state non-conference game this weekend, with an unfortunate ending compared to the Bemidji-UMD matchup. BGSU dropped to Miami Friday despite scoring first. Chris Nell (G, So. - BGSU) allowed three goals on 44 shots. Nell still maintains a 1.79 GAA and a 93.3 SV% on the season.
Good News for Huskies Fans: BGSU failed to find much offense this weekend. The Falcons are middle of the road for a WCHA team this year with 2.53 goals scored per game.
Bad News for Huskies Fans: Tech could have used a BGSU win over Miami for the PWR.