Could Friday's loss be a good thing?
The Huskies played to a split this past weekend in Northern Minnesota against the Bemidji State Beavers. Friday night, Tech was shut down and out-skated by a speedy BSU team to a 3-0 loss. MTU bounced back hard on Saturday, winning 9-2., with eight different skaters tallying a goal for the Huskies. Friday's loss kept Tech from those much-needed two points for the MacNaughton Cup. Tech is now down two points to Minnesota State for first place in the WCHA standings. The loss could have been a lot worse for Tech's WCHA positioning also, but the University of Alaska also stole two points from visiting Bowling Green.
Perhaps the Huskies were getting a little too comfortable in their eight-game unbeaten streak, or perhaps this weekend was the first of 2016 without added hype and energy. To get back to the level of play that will be necessary for the playoffs, the Huskies almost needed a loss like Friday’s to double down and re-intensify. Saturday's level of energy was significantly higher. For the first two periods, it seemed like there were two or three gold jerseys on the puck at all times. Each of the nine goals were well-earned.
Now on the bubble for an at-large NCAA tourney bid, Tech cannot waiver for any remaining game. MTU still has two remaining series against opponents that they, on paper, should be able to sweep. As the season progresses further, each win is important for WCHA playoff seeding, and increasingly more crucial for potentially winning an at-large NCAA bid. It is much better to falter now against BSU than in the WCHA Final Five or against a team such as the University of Alaska.
Series Wrap Up
As noted on the THG Series Preview for Bemidji, BSU is a difficult team for ranked opponents to beat. The Beavers play to the level of their opponent and Friday was no exception. While the game was back and forth, MTU had many instances where they failed to hold the offensive zone or had a bad pass which broke up offensive pressure. Ultimately, Tech’s playmakers were outworked by the Beavers’ playmakers. Brendan Harms (F, Jr. – BSU) scored two, including the deflating late first-period goal which ended up as the game winner. Michael Bitzer (G, So. – BSU) was a perfect 100 SV% for the shut out.
In response to the game, MTU head coach Mel Pearson commented on the effort he saw from his team Friday. “We just didn’t have that urgency, that speed and whatnot that we need in our game... It’s all mental, it wasn’t a skill thing. It’s all mental,” Coach Pearson said in his postgame commentary.
Whatever message Coach Pearson conveyed to the team before the game on Saturday, it worked. Tech bounced back to score nine goals the next night. Eight skaters scored for MTU, and Tech sent two different goalies from the game. The level of intensity and work ethic was visibly better. “Just really pleased with the effort, the bounce back we had tonight,” Pearson noted the difference on Saturday. “We earned those goals.”
MTU in the Rankings
Overall on the weekend, Tech moved up in the PWR to a three-way tie for #16 due to some favorable wins elsewhere in the NCAA (for example, Penn State lost to Ohio State Saturnday night, and St. Lawrence lost to Quinnipiac Friday and tied Brown Saturday). Within the WCHA, MTU still sits in a tie for 2nd with Bowling Green State who split this weekend with the University of Alaska. Tech and BGSU both gained two points on the idle #1 Minnesota State University. The Black and Gold remained at #1 in the THG WCHA Web Media Poll and #14 in both the USCHO.com and USA Hockey/ USA Today nationwide polls.
THG Three Stars of the Weekend
- CJ Eick (3A)
- Tyler Heinonen (2G)
- Jamie Phillips (92.5 SV%)
Honorable Mention: Whoever was chanting "Let's Go Tech!" nonstop at the Sanford Center on Saturday. It was possible to hear on TV over the quiet BSU fans in attendance. MTU fans have traveled well all season, and it is great to have a fan presence at away games.
WCHA Wrap Up
#3 Bowling Green State University at #9 University of Alaska
Friday: 1-2, Saturday: 4-1
Like MTU this weekend, BGSU dropped a game to a team ranked below them. Unlike the Beavers, who have been known to take down ranked opponents, the Nanooks have been struggling most of this season. Friday's win over Bowling Green may rank as Alaska's best win of the year. Alec Hajdukovich (F, Sr. - UA) had two points on the weekend (1G, 1A). Alaska now has to make the long and difficult trip to Houghton for next weekend's series. Look for the Nanooks to be tired from their trip.
Good News for Huskies Fans: Alaska's victory on Friday meant Tech didn't lose ground to BGSU in the WCHA standings.
Bad News for Huskies Fans: Like Tech, BGSU also bounced back well on Saturday. Expect the Falcons to be discussing a similar possible resurgence aiming at the same goals the Huskies are.
#7 Lake Superior State University @ #8 University of Alaska - Anchorage
Friday: 3-2, Saturday: 2-5
Both of these teams are currently in WCHA playoff positions, and each won crucial points to maintain that position. With two weekends of hockey left, determining who will be MTU's first round opponent is still up in the air, but it would not be a far reach to say one of these two teams are likely match-ups. If the playoff started today, MTU would be matched up with LSSU. The Lakers carry a league-worst 1.79 goals per game, but were still able to find the net three times in Friday's game against the Seawolves. The last of those three came off the stick of J.T. Henke (F, So. - LSSU) on the power play. The Lakers are 9-2 when scoring three or more goals.
Chase Van Allen (D, Jr. - UAA) had three assists in Saturday's game, which got a little chippy once UAA started to take command of the game. Erik Drapluk (D, Sr. - LSSU) was handed a 10 min. game misconduct late in the third, one instance of some pushing and shoving getting out of hand.
Good News for Huskies Fans: Tech has the potential of playing one of these teams in the first round of the WCHA tournament. The Huskies lost to UAA in a sweep which was the low point of the season, but Tech has consistently built since those games and appears ready to show the league they have improved since then.
Bad News for Huskies Fans: Lake State was once again very physical in a conference match-up, which this Saturday was started due to a knee-on-knee hit which did not draw a penalty. Watch out for either of these teams to get physical against MTU players should they be the Huskies' first round competition.
#10 University of Alabama - Huntsville at #5 Northern Michigan
Friday: 0-3, Saturday: 1-3
A surprise sweep for NMU this week, who has normally been splitting weekends with opponents, lead to a three-game win streak for the Wildcats. NMU is now tied for fourth in the WCHA with Ferris State, and fighting for that coveted last home playoff position. The Huskies still have a home-and-home series with the Wildcats, so expect NMU to be skating hard through those last two games. Everyone has something important to skate for as this season winds down.
Dominick Shine (F, Jr. - NMU) had two points on the weekend (1G, 1A) and continued his great season. Mathias Dahlström (G, Jr. - NMU) was in net for the Wildcats both nights, with a 97.1 SV% on the weekend, allowing just one goal on 34 shots.
Good News for Huskies Fans: Hard to find too much here. NMU averages 13.5 PIM per game (2nd highest in the WCHA) and received 16 over the weekend. This means that the Huskies could find plenty of power play time to start out the month of March.
Bad News for Huskies Fans: After being .500 on the season up to this point, the Wildcats have put together a three-game win streak. With the Wildcats heading to LSSU next weekend, NMU could potentially be on a five-game win streak into the final weekend against Tech. Watch for the final rivalry weekend to be very intense, very meaningful hockey for the Wildcats.