Michigan Tech returns to Houghton this weekend to face the Lake Superior State Lakers for this year's Winter Carnival. After a successful trip to Bowling Green, the Huskies have climbed to #15 in the USCHO Poll and debuted at #14 in the USA Today Poll. Winter Carnival is always a great time to be in Houghton and this weekend should be no different. A quick look at tickets.mtu.edu and it's apparent that it will be standing room only for walk-up sales this weekend. That's always good for the atmosphere. Lake Superior is lead by former Huskies assistant Damon Whitten, who was featured this week in the Alumni Update. While things haven't exactly gone according to plan for Whitten and the Lakers, they've certainly looked better than what both the coaches (10th) and media (9th) thought going into this season. The Lakers have already improved on last year with more wins and conference points, and currently sit tied for 8th in the WCHA, good enough to participate in the WCHA tournament if they can hold off Alaska and Alabama-Huntsville.
Other than a few bad minutes on last Friday night, the Huskies defense has really tightened up since those horrible letdowns in their series with Alaska-Anchorage in early December. Momentary lapses have taken their toll on the Huskies this year but their offense has really picked up to help lighten the load on netminder Jamie Phillips. Phillips' win on Saturday put him at 47 career wins and with a victory in either game this weekend, Phillips will be alone in second place for all-time among MTU goaltenders, surpassing Garry Bauman ('64). The Huskies could be a little shorthanded this weekend if Tyler Heinonen and Jake Jackson remain out with injuries. Without those two, the pressure will continue to fall on the top line of Malcolm Gould, Dylan Steman and the WCHA Offensive Player of the Month, Alex Petan. So far, they've been able to exceed expectations. That group has been averaging two goals per game and almost four points per game, combined.
With a limited bench, some players picking up those extra minutes need to step up. Max Vallis and Reid Sturos did that, last weekend, by assisting on a power play goal and scoring crucial 5-on-3 shorthanded goal. While the Lakers are limited offensively, points from the bottom two lines will likely still be important in widening any leads the Huskies might get. If Max Vallis dresses, expect him to continue to see time on the power play, and with LSSU averaging just under six penalties per game, he and the Huskies PP will get their opportunities.
The Lakers offense is the worst in the WCHA, averaging below two goals a game, and their strongest asset has been their goaltending. Kossoff (G, Fr.) and Defiel (G, So.) have combined for three shutouts, and held their opponents to a single goal another six times. While their goals against average isn't impressive, they've seen a combined 869 shots and have very respectable save percentages, especially Defiel who's stopped almost 93% of the shots he's seen in WCHA play. The Lakes will be without freshman forward Jake Hand, who is out with a suspension, but it may be a blessing for LSSU since he is a team-worst -15 this season.
Fans who can't make it to Houghton will also be pleased to know that ASN has picked up the TV broadcast rights for the Friday game. We have compiled a list of stations carrying the game, which you can access by clicking here. Fans should also note that both of the Winter Carnival games will have special start times. Friday's game will start at 8:07 PM Eastern and the puck will drop on Saturday at 5:07 PM Eastern.
Three Keys to the Game:
- The first goal of this game could be huge, and the longer the Huskies let the Lakers hang around, the more likely a game won't turn out well for MTU. LSSU has scored first in ten games and come away with points 8 times. If they get an early lead and their goaltender has a great performance, it could be difficult for the Huskies to break down the Lakers as they bunker in to protect a lead.
- The Huskies need to find a way to play better at home, because much like last weekend, the home and road splits are very telling. Michigan Tech's home record (4-4-1) is nearly identical to Lake Superior's road record (4-5-3). Whatever is going on, the Huskies need to find a way to not have this series be a repeat of the Alaska-Anchorage series. The Winter Carnival match-up is very similar, with expectations and the potential for a letdown after big results for Michigan Tech over the last two weekends.
- Special teams are always important and this weekend is no different. Michigan Tech will have to use its speed and Lake Superior's chippiness to their advantage. Drawing penalties and keeping cool will go a long way to deciding this game, because the Huskies' power play remains tops in the conference (27.3%). If the Huskies can't get the man-advantage finish once or twice each night, it could be difficult to come away with four points.
This has all the makings of a trap series for the Huskies. They've played very well over the last month, but its hard not to question whether a letdown is likely with all of the expectations and festivities this weekend. The Huskies need to take care of business and hopefully they have the right mindset to find success at home again.
While it seems possible that the hiccup could happen here, the team seems to be in playoff mode, so on Friday, Michigan Tech struggles to score but comes away with a 3-1 win (including an empty net goal), and on Saturday, the Huskies put it all together for a 5-2 win. Don't forget, Friday night's game is on American Sports Network and both games have unusual start times.
Extra prediction: Alex Petan wins the MVP award and Katie Lind gets a little jealous when Alex has to kiss the Queen, Savanna Curtis. It's a winter carnival tradition. Here's that awkward moment between last year's MVP, Riley Sweeney, and Queen, Laura Jewett.