Four points on two late goals
The Huskies eked out four crucial points this weekend against the University of Alaska, winning 6-5 on Friday and 3-2 on Saturday in overtime. Joel L'Esperance (13G, 9A) and Alex Petan (16G, 11A) netted the game winners, respectively. While the Huskies have had difficulty with their two most recent opponents, Tech has kept pace with both Bowling Green State University and Minnesota State University. MTU currently sits in second in the WCHA, two points below MSU and ahead of BGSU by tiebreaker going into the last weekend of play.
It will be debated for the rest of the season whether Tech showed perseverance or breakdown in their sweep over UA. It was hoped however that the Huskies had learned the lesson of the pitfalls of trap series last weekend in Bemidji. It appears the black and gold needed two more lessons. UA has one of the lowest PWR rankings of all teams in the NCAA, and ranks near the bottom of the WCHA in all statistical categories.
This was just one more example of how tough the league is, and how close the top and bottom of the WCHA is. Coach Pearson noted there are goods that come out of two hard tight games at this stage of the season. Speaking in reference to both the WCHA playoffs and potential NCAA playoffs, "There are going to be 'tight, hard fought, close, ups and downs, lots going on' games. It's good for us to get into some of these...it sets us up for moving forward."
Huskies Game Recaps
Friday night started strong for the Huskies. Tech went up on the Nanooks early with a series of first period goals coming regularly every couple minutes of play from all lines. Mike Neville (F, Jr. - MTU) started scoring off on a beautiful short handed play for his second of the season, his goal was followed by goals by L'Esperance (F, So. - MTU), Max Vallis (F, Sr. - MTU) and Matt Roy (D, So. - MTU). The first period went MTU's way in almost every aspect.
If the first period was Tech's, the second was Alaska's. The Nanooks pulled starting goalie Jesse Jenks (G, Fr.- UA) in the first intermission for David Jones (G, Jr. - UA) who played the remainder of the weekend. The goaltender change must have sparked the bench, and the Nanooks netted three unanswered goals in the second to make the entire John MacInnes Student Ice Arena nervous. Max Vallis, surging since the Winter Carnival season, finally stopped the bleeding with an even-strength goal, his seventh of the year. Vallis was assisted by Neville and Los Angeles Kings draft-pick Matt Roy. Neville now has ten points in the 2015-2016 campaign.
For those fans from bygone eras used to the teams of MTU's past, three unanswered Alaska goals in the 2nd period Friday would have been an easy place to give up. The Huskies of the 2015-2016 campaign are different than those years. This team has shown a resiliency and evenness MTU fans have not seen in previous years. Coach Mel Pearson has mentioned on multiple occasions how steady and unwavering the team when giving up goals.
MTU had 57 attempted shots in Friday's matchup, putting nearly as many pucks on net each period as Alaska will in Saturday's entire game. L'Esperance netted the eventual tie-breaking goal late in the third period. It was a goal that reignited the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena for the remaining 37 seconds of play.
3-2 Huskies (OT)
Another close game looking at the final score on Saturday night, but a final score can be deceiving. The Huskies peppered goaltender Jones all game, putting 51 total shots on the junior goaltender. Speaking on the Mel Pearson Show on Feb 29th, Coach Pearson noted, "You [could] just sense right from the get go that our team was dialed in, the only problem is we ran into a goalie who was pretty good." Where Friday's game was balanced scoring from all Huskies lines, Saturday saw big names on the score sheet.
These scoring leaders were a must to continue that focus to secure the win. Tyler Heinonen (F, Jr. - MTU) netted his 14th goal of the season to start scoring, and had assists on both of the other two MTU goals. As noted in the series preview, the remainder of injured Tyler Morley's (F, Sr. - UA) line was the main scoring threat from Alaska the second night. Linesmates Nolan Huysmans (F, Sr. - UA) had points on each of the UA goals Saturday. Huysmans (7G, 13A) is the Nanooks leading scorer behind Morley.
Not to be outdone by L'Esperance on big goals, Alex Petan (F, Sr. - MTU) had the overtime game winner. Petan is MTU's scoring leader this season, and now has 129 points (57G, 72A) in his career with Michigan Tech. Having a hot Alex Petan going into the upcoming NMU series will be essential.
MTU in the National Rankings
MTU moved around the rankings slightly following this weekend, it seems different polls and systems felt differently about MTU's sweep over Alaska. In the PairWise Ranking System, designed to mimic the NCAA selection system, Tech had to settle this weekend staying tied at PWR 16t, tied with Minnesota. The PWR system is not meant to be affected greatly by single games, but Tech has been moving upward consistently in the second half of the season. This weekend, the University of Minnesota - Duluth sweep over #3 St Cloud State really improved UMD's position, leapfrogging the Bulldogs over MTU. The Huskies moved down to #2 in the THG Web Media Poll. Nationally, Tech now sits at #13 in both the USCHO.com Division I Men's Poll and USA Today/USA Hockey Men's Hockey Poll.
THG Three Stars of the Weekend
- Joel L'Esperance (3G, GWG Friday)
- Alex Petan (GWG, OT Saturday)
- Tyler Heinonen (1G, 3A including an assist on GWG Saturday)
Around the WCHA
#5 Ferris State University at #2t Bowling Green State University
Friday: 3-4, Saturday 2-6
Four points went the way of the BGSU Falcons this weekend to keep pace with Michigan Tech and Minnesota State. Mitchel McLain (F, So. - BGSU) had a four-point weekend (2G, 2A), including the game-winning goal in Saturday's romp. With the two losses, FSU has lost their home ice position and dropped to #5. Ferris hosts Lake Superior State this next weekend, who have taken 7 of their last 10 possible points. Look for FSU to come out strong, hoping to sweep the Lakers to retake home-ice positioning. FSU will need four points coupled with an MTU sweep of NMU for their home ice hopes.
Good News for Huskies Fans: Ferris State fell down out of the race for the MacNaughton Cup, and down out of home ice. Ferris had been on the heels of MTU until this weekend.
Bad News for Huskies Fans: With Bowling Green winning both games this weekend, they kept pace with MTU, giving Tech a lot more on the line this last week.
#4 Northern Michigan University at #7 Lake Superior State University
Friday: 1-3, Saturday 2-2 OT
Three points for Lake Superior State this weekend allowed the Lakers to clinch playoffs. The Lakers have won seven of their last ten points and still have the opportunity to leap over Bemidji State for 6th place in the WCHA. Gordon Defiel (G, So. - LSSU) was in net for LSSU both nights this weekend. Defiel saw 57 shots on the weekend and now has a 92.1 sv% on the season. LSSU is 10 for 12 when scoring three or more goals this season. The Lakers only have 12 wins on the season, so getting to that third goal has been crucial for success.
The Wildcats continued their inconsistent season. Perhaps stifled by the LSSU goaltending last weekend, they will be looking to rebound against MTU this weekend. There is a lot on the line for both teams as MTU is fighting for first seed and NMU for home ice.
Good News for Huskies Fans: MTU is a different team than when they faced off against NMU early in the season. Look for Tech to put as much on the line as the Wildcats for this final rivalry weekend.
Bad News for Huskies Fans: NMU is still playing strong. Don't mistake three goals on the weekend as evidence the Wildcats are in an offensive slump.
#10 University of Alabama-Huntsville at #6 Bemidji State University
Friday: 1-1 OT, Saturday 2-6
The yearly renewal of a former division II rivalry knocked UAH out of playoff contention. Bemidji is now 3-1-0 against UAH this season, and put themselves in a position to fight for home ice in the last series of the year. Saturday's game was a Fitzgerald brother highlight reel, as all three brothers made the score sheet for a total of four points. Myles Fitzgerald (F, So. - BSU) netted his fifth and sixth of the season.
Good News for Huskies Fans: BSU has something very valuable to play for in the final series of the year at Minnesota State. The Beavers always seem to pull through for Tech in big games. Perhaps this coming weekend each team can do the other a favor as BSU will be cheering for Tech over NMU to keep their home ice chances alive
Bad News for Huskies Fans: BSU only allowed one power play goal on eight penalty kills this weekend. The Beavers have had a strong PK all season, something MTU ran into a couple of weeks ago. Tech may need to go through Bemidji in the WCHA playoffs at some point.
#1 Minnesota State University at #8 University of Alaska-Anchorage
Friday: 3-0, Saturday 2-1
Huskies fans, hoping the Seawolves could steal one or two points this weekend, were disappointed by the Maverick sweep. Anchorage has not yet clinched a playoff berth, and will need to win one game against in-state rival Alaska during the last weekend of the year to determine if they continue their season.
The Mavericks have their big names scoring at the right time, heading into the final weekend of the season. Pittsburgh draftee Teddy Blueger (F, Sr. - MSU), Winnipeg draftee C.J. Franklin (F, So. - MSU) and Bryce Gervais (F, Sr. - MSU) shared Mankato's five weekend goals between them. Minnesota State has four NHL draftees on their roster.
Good News for Huskies Fans: While MSU didn't drop the two points MTU would have liked them to, the Mavericks still have a big series against a feisty Bemidji State side. Noted time and time again, the Beavers are an excellent big-game team.
Bad News for Huskies Fans: The Mavericks' solid wins over UAA spoke louder to pollsters than MTU's sweep over UA. While head-to-head MTU has come out on top already this season, the Mavericks have shown they are no pushover over and over. Minnesota State now leads the league in goals allowed per game (2.09).