MTU Advances in Two
Michigan Tech took care of the University of Alaska Nanooks in two games this weekend to punch their ticket to the WCHA Final Five in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Huskies were the first team to earn their slot. As the #1 seed in the tournament, MTU will face the lowest remaining seed, the Ferris State Bulldogs, who made their way through Northern Michigan several minutes later. Elsewhere, the two series in Mankato and Bowling Green were decided in game threes on Sunday. All four top seeds ended up winning their first round matchups.
The Huskies had a good combination of puck luck and sniping to open the WCHA Playoffs. Joel L'Esperance (F, So. - MTU) started scoring for the Huskies at 8:36 in the first period and ended the night with seven SOG and two more points toward joining the Century Club. The Nanooks' only goal of the evening came on a turnover in front of MTU goaltender Jamie Phillips just a few minutes later. Tyler Morley (F, Sr. - UA) took advantage and backhanded the puck right over Phillips' glove side. Morley, who was injured during the regular season series in Houghton two weeks ago, had two goals this weekend. He missed seven games this season, but was the Nanook's leading scorer.
Not forgetting the 3OT game in the WCHA Playoffs last year, the Huskies were ready to finish off Alaska in regulation. "We [wanted] to take care of business in regulation," Joel L'Esperance said following the game. "I think we did a good job of that... It's huge for us to get some goals here in the first game of the playoffs."
L'Esperance was one of six Huskies with a multi-point game Friday. Cliff Watson (D, Jr. - MTU) had a four-point night (1G, 3A). The San Jose Sharks draftee now has ten points (2G, 8A) and is +12 on the season, and is tied for 2nd in scoring among WCHA defensemen. Dylan Steman (F, So. - MTU) was another Huskies skater with three points on the night (1G, 2A), including the eventual game winner. Steman has quietly built up 34 career points in his two years with Michigan Tech.
Jake Lucchini (F, Fr. - MTU) had a two point night (1G, 1A) including a snipe which destroyed Davis Jones' (G, Jr. - UA) water bottle. "He's got a great shot," Pearson said. "You saw that tonight. You hit that waterbottle... not many goalies are going to stop that." Lucchini now has 17 points on the season (7G, 10A) and has been picking up his pace; of his three multi point games this season, two have come in the last month.
While Alaska went up 1-0 early on a goal by Chad Staley (F, Fr. - UA), Saturday's first period offensive pressure was almost all Huskies. Alex Petan (F, Sr. - MTU) got to his own rebound in the net, which he quickly put in on the backhand for the tying goal. Thirty one seconds later, Reid Sturos sniped the short side top corner to make it two in a row for the Huskies. Head Coach Mel Pearson has noted this team's tenacity on several occassions this season. "I like how we bounce back," Pearson said again following Saturday's game. "We got the lead after the first period. From that point on we carried the lead for the rest of the game."
After the Sturos goal, Nanook Head Coach Dallas Fergus was forced to take an early-game timeout to slow down the game. It didn't work. Malcolm Gould had two great chances immediately following the stoppage in play and Lucchini had another. Tech extended their lead in the second on goals by Alex Gilles (F, So. - MTU) and Joel L'Esperance. These two were a pair of quick goals coming just 1:01 apart. L'Esperance grabbed a loose puck right from right in front of goaltender Davis Jones's pads for his 16th goal of the season and the eventual game winner on Saturday. Gould, who hadn't scored since Feb 20th at Bemidji State, would lock up the series win with an empty netter at 19:25.
THG Three Stars of the Weekend
- Joel L'Esperance (3G, 10SOG, GWG, +4)
- Cliff Watson (1G, 3A, 4SOG)
- Alex Petan (1G, 2A, 11SOG)
MTU in the Rankings
Tech moved up slightly in the USCHO.com Poll to #12. The Huskies remained at #13 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Poll and dropped slightly in the PWR to #15 due to the Northeastern (#14) sweep over Notre Dame (#12). Curious how MTU dropped in the PWR even after a sweep? Check out our new Pairwise Predictor to see what games affected the Huskies.
- Alex Petan's 123 shots in 35 games gives him an average SOG/game identical to Blackhawks star forward Patrick Kane at 3.51.
- Michigan Tech is 9th nationally in team defense (2.11 GAA) and 10th nationally in team offense (3.42 GPG).
- Joel L'Esperance continued to improve his chances of getting to the century club. The sophomore is now up to 43 career points with MTU.
WCHA Wrap Up
#7 Lake Superior State University @ #2 Minnesota State University
Friday: 2-5, Saturday 2-0, Sunday 0-3
Minnesota State has historically had LSSU's number, and until this weekend held a 10-0 all time record over the Lakers. MSU outshot Lake State 130-55 on the weekend. The Mavericks are 6th nationally in avg. SOG (1st - WCHA). All things being equal, this should have been a quick series for Minnesota State, however Saturday night Gordon Defiel (G, So. - LSSU) stopped a WCHA record-breaking 57 shots in regulation to push a game three.
Brad McClure (F, So. - MSU) had four point weekend (2G, 2A) including both Friday and Sunday's game winning goals. Cole Huggins (G, Jr. - MSU) received his own 22-shot shutout credit on Sunday. Huggins earned WCHA Goaltending Champion with a 1.70 GAA inside the WCHA .
Good News for Huskies Fans: Minnesota State will face Bowling Green in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. MTU will only need to go through one of those teams to win the Broadmoor Trophy.
Bad News for Huskies Fans: Going 11/12 this weekend, Minnesota State now has the WCHA-best penalty kill (#5 nationally) at 86.9%. MTU's PK is 82.9% on the season (#25 nationally).
#6 Bemidji State University @ #3 Bowling Green State University
Friday: 3-1, Satuday: 2-7, Sunday 1-3
Bowling Green was able to stop the surging Beavers in three games this weekend. Sunday's game produced some drama when a potential tie-breaking BSU goal was disallowed while a very similar-looking BGSU goal later stood. "We've had some reviews, not so much in the second half, but in the first half, go against us," Bowling Green head coach Chris Bergeron commented following the game. "Obviously it was meant to be since both those calls went our way."
Stephen Baylis (F, Fr. - BGSU) followed up his WCHA Rookie of the Week performance by extending his point streak to seven games on Friday and Saturday. The freshman scored 14 points (5G, 9A) during the streak starting Feb. 20th, 2016. His streak ended Sunday.
Good News for Huskies Fans: BGSU and MSU split their four games evenly at 2-2-2 this year. Look for a close match between those teams on Friday in Grand Rapids. Hopefully the winner there will be more tired than MTU on Saturday.
Bad News for Huskies Fans: Bowling Green, like Minnesota State and Michigan Tech, are all hinging their NCAA plans on winning the Broadmoor. Look for all three of these teams to play desperately next weekend.
#5 Northern Michigan University @ #4 Ferris State University
Friday: 2-3, Saturday: 2-5
The only other WCHA playoff first round series to be decided in two games. Darren Smith (G, Fr. - FSU) stopped 48/52 Wildcat shots on the weekend, and earned WCHA Rookie of the Week for his efforts. Big names for Ferris came up big Friday night. Bulldog juniors Gerald Mayhew (F, Jr. - FSU) and Chad MacDonald (F, Jr. - FSU) combined for eight points over the weekend, six of them on Saturday alone.
Good News for Huskies Fans: Tech won't have to worry about facing off against UP rival NMU next weekend in Grand Rapids.
Bad News for Huskies Fans: Nearly every FSU point over the weekend came from one of four skaters. Shutting down those players will be paramount on Friday.