Michigan Tech returns home to face the Alaska Nanooks after salvaging a split with Bemidji State. The Huskies were shut out for the first time all season last Friday, their first loss since the GLI Championship Game. It was apparent that the bye week didn't help the team as they responded with a dominating performance on Saturday night. The Nanooks had a split of their own in Fairbanks against Bowling Green, but are in almost the opposite situation, with Friday's win over the Falcons their only points in their last seven games.
Michigan Tech needs to continue to win if they want a shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament; a slip up this weekend will virtually eliminate them from any hopes of an autobid. There is very little reason to think the Huskies can't sweep this weekend. Alaska are currently ninth in the WCHA and could very well stay there and not make the WCHA Tournament. They have the most goals allowed in the conference (74) and the third-worst scoring offense (52). Michigan Tech leads the conference in goals scored (74) and is tied for second-fewest goals allowed (47) so the teams are nearly polar opposites.
Freshman goalie Jesse Jenks has had a decent season between the pipes for Alaska but he and Davis Jones (G, Jr. - UA) virtually split the workload all season. Their top scorer, Tyler Morley (F, Sr. - UA) has missed the last three weeks after getting injured against Wisconsin on January 30th. Beyond him and his other two linemates, Alex Hajdukovich (F, Sr. - UA) and Nolan Huysmans (F, Sr. - UA), there isn't much to worry about on offense, especially if Morley is still out of the lineup. The Nanooks are also very undisciplined, racking up the second-most penalty minutes in the WCHA (14.5/game). The also allow an average of over five power play chances per game to the opposition.
Michigan Tech's offense recovered nicely last Saturday after getting shutout for the first time all season. Eight players scored goals including three defenders and thirteen players got on the score sheet. Tyler Heinonen, CJ Eick and Joel L'Esperance lead the way with a combined nine points. It was a good sign to see the balanced scoring including two power play goals. That balance will hopefully help get the Huskies through this important stretch from now through the WCHA tournament.
Three Keys to the Game:
- The first goal will be crucial. MTU must not let the Nanooks gain an early advantage. Alaska is 4-14-2 when giving up the first goal and the Huskies are 11-5-2 when scoring first. The longer this game stays scoreless, it will give Alaska confidence and allow them a chance to win without getting to three goals.
- At risk of sounding like a broken record, Michigan Tech's power play is always a key. If they get the chances that Alaska typically allows, there is no reason the Huskies should not score at least two power play goals this weekend on approximately ten chances since they are successful at a league best 25% right now, and the Nanooks are a league worst 77.7% on the penalty kill.
- Jamie Phillips might not get a lot of work this weekend so he'll have to find a way to stay focused and make some big saves when called on, especially early in the game. He has been spectacular since a sketchy performance in a tie at Bowling Green four weeks ago.
Michigan Tech needs to prevent a letdown as they start looking forward to that final regular season series with rival Northern Michigan. If they can stay focused on this weekend, there is no reason they shouldn't win. A big lead either night might even be a chance for Matt Wintjes or Devin Kero to get some work in net and give Phillips a little break. If they can take care of business this weekend, there is no reason the Huskies couldn't get some help from Alaska-Anchorage or Bemidji State and find themselves with at least a share of the MacNaughton Cup for the first time in 40 years.
Coach Pearson will have the boys focused like a laser and the Huskies will sweep the Nanooks with a pair of 4-1 victories. A fully healthy and comfortable Tyler Heinonen leads the scoring and Jamie Phillips gets a rest for the third period on Saturday night.