Michigan Tech returns to the Final Five for only seventh time in 29 year history of the tournament, but the third time under coach Mel Pearson. This trip also marks the first time the Huskies have participated in back to back years since 1994. If Michigan Tech can win on Friday, it will be their third trip to the Championship game, with their most recent visit last year in a loss to Minnesota State.
This weekend's semifinal matchup is with Ferris State, a team the Huskies haven't played since October due to a late adjustment to the schedule to allow Michigan Tech to participate in the Desert Hockey Classic. While the two teams split both of their series early on, a lot has changed for both teams since they last met. WCHA Rookie of the Year, Corey Mackin (F, Fr. - FSU) hurt the Huskies scoring two goals and four points in those early meetings, but he's sputtered towards the end of the season, being kept off the scoring sheet in 13 of his last 18 games. He and the Ferris State offense can still be very dangerous, especially All-WCHA Second Team selection Gerald Mayhew (F, Jr. - FSU) and Chad McDonald (F, Jr. - FSU). Both players scored four points to help the Bulldogs sweep Northern Michigan with Mayhew earning WCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors. Those three forwards and the Ferris State offense could prove frustrating to the Huskies' defense.
Michigan Tech, on the other hand, swept Alaska last weekend, with a comfortable win on Friday (7-1) and a more contested result on Saturday (5-3). The offense has been rolling for the last 7 games and some of that can be attributed to Coach Pearson making a tweak to the top two lines. In five of the last six games, Pearson has flipped Malcolm Gould and Tyler Heinonen. It's resulted in improved production for all six players involved with the new lines of Heinonen/Dylan Steman/Alex Petan and Gould/C.J. Eick/Joel L'Esperance. L'Esperance leads the way over that stretch with 11 points including 7 goals, but even Eick and Steman have seen their production increase to nearly a point per game down the stretch, each tallying one goal and five assists.
All of that firepower from the top two lines makes the Huskies a very difficult opponent for just about anyone, and that doesn't even include the numbers Max Vallis, Brent Baltus and Jake Lucchini are putting up or the offensive production from the blueline.
Defensively, Michigan Tech is still struggling on the penalty kill, but when facing equal numbers, goaltender Jamie Phillips is stellar with a .931 save percentage (according to CHN Advanced Metrics). In all situations the team is allowing a mere 2.11 goals per game, good for 9th best in the country. If the Huskies advance, they'll face another team in the top 11 nationally in either Minnesota State (1.97 GAA - 6th in NCAA) or Bowling Green (2.17 GAA - 11th in NCAA).
Michigan Tech won both season series with the teams in the other semifinal, getting three points from the Mavericks in Houghton and going 2-1-1 against the Falcons. Both teams could be interested in avenging those season series and knocking the Huskies out of the NCAA tournament while punching their own ticket with the automatic qualifier on the line Saturday.
Three Keys to win the Broadmoor
- Special teams can kill a team this time of year, with goals at such a premium in the WCHA, the Huskies will have to limit their penalty minutes and improve their penalty kill if they don't want their season to come to an end this weekend. The power-play will have to improve from what it was last weekend (0/7) but for some reason, it has been much better away from Houghton (25.7% vs 16.0%)
- With a quality goaltender on each team in this tournament, the first goal could be critical in setting the tone and making the losing side chase the game. The Huskies are the only team in the field with a winning record when not scoring first so it may not be the end for the Huskies, but scoring first could really make it difficult on the other teams on the schedule.
- The Huskies must focus on playing the game the way they want to, and not let the strong defenses they could face this weekend slow down their pace and dictate the game to them. Getting last change all weekend could help with that, along with improving their face-off percentages. which have been poor for their primary centers. Only Alex Petan (.646) and Joel L'Esperance (.545) have been way above even, but Dylan Steman (.509) and Mike Neville (.502) will likely be the players Pearson goes to for key faceoffs this weekend.
Michigan Tech has a great opportunity to take home the Broadmoor Cup for the first time in the trophy's relatively short history (created in 1981 when MTU left the WCHA for a three year stint in the CCHA eventually becoming the WCHA Tournament Champion trophy in 1985). While the Huskies have made the championship game of this tournament twice, neither time was as the top seed, which should help them.
Their NCAA tournament chances improve with each win. According to Jim Dahl from CollegeHockeyRanked.com, the Huskies have a 1% chance of getting in without winning Friday. For that to happen, most tournaments need to go chalk with the exception of the Big Ten, where Minnesota cannot win the title and the Huskies will likely need a win by Michigan State on Thursday night to keep that small glimmer of hope alive.
If Michigan Tech is able to win on Friday, their chances go up dramatically, with the Huskies getting an at-large bid in 14% of all possible scenarios. Despite the low number, the good news is that the majority of these require mostly favorites to win this weekend. The big keys are some combination of Michigan winning the Big Ten, Minnesota-Duluth going 0-2, Northeastern losing friday and Quinnipiac or Havard winning the ECAC. The main concern is that UMD and Northeastern are two of the hottest teams in the country and Michigan looks very vulnerable as the #2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
The easiest way for Michigan Tech to get into the tournament is to just win another trophy. Huskies defeat Ferris State on Friday 4-2 and add another trophy to their cabinet this season with a 5-3 win over Minnesota State and in Cincinnati next weekend in a rematch of last year's NCAA tournament game against St. Cloud State.