The Huskies earned the number one seed in the WCHA tournament and a share of the MacNaughton Cup after sweeping their arch rival, Northern Michigan last weekend and waiting to see if Bemidji State would hold on to their lead and beat Minnesota State. Then they had to stay up to see who would win between the Nanooks and Seawolves to find out who their opponent was this weekend. Alaska completed a sweep of their own to earn the eighth and final spot in the WCHA playoffs.
While Michigan Tech may have swept the season series with four wins, the last two in Houghton a couple weeks ago, were far from easy as both required big plays at the end to get the victory. Friday night, Joel L'Esperance was the hero, scoring the winning goal with 38 seconds left in regulation after the Huskies gave up a four-goal lead. On Saturday, the Huskies peppered Davis Jones (Fr - G, UA) with 51 shots but needed a goal from Alex Petan half way into overtime to clinch the series sweep.
Alaska played that series without their best player, Tyler Morley (Sr - F, 16G - 12A), who had been out with an injury since January 30. His return last weekend, sparked the Nanooks to their first series sweep of the season against their in-state rivals, Alaska-Anchorage. His four points including 2 goals led the way and his offense could be a real difference maker in this series.
The Huskies know they can't look past the Nanooks this weekend or else their season could be over. Those results two weeks ago could go a long way to keeping the Huskies focused on their next shift. After struggling to separate from Alaska, the team should remember that every play matters, from not giving up clean faceoffs in the defensive zone to sticking to their systems on the power play and penalty kill.
Michigan Tech is a great place, having lost only one game since the GLI championship game at the end of December. Jamie Phillips is near the top of his game, he's allowed more than two goals only twice during the stretch and now has the career shutout record for Huskies goaltenders, including three this season. Alex Petan had another strong weekend with three points and won the WCHA scoring title. The Huskies have gotten contributions all over their line chart and are very difficult to match up against when players like Jake Lucchini, Brent Baltus, and Reid Sturos are getting on the score sheet regularly.
Three Keys to the Series
- Michigan Tech allowed a season worst three power play goals during Friday night of their last series with Alaska. If the Huskies don't find a way to improve their penalty kill and decrease their penalty minutes, it could be a long weekend for Huskies, with the Nanooks at least forcing a third game.
- Tyler Morley is a difference maker. With his return, the Huskies will have to make sure they know where he is and make sure that he isn't the one that beats them without over committing resources to stopping him.
- The Huskies power play was clicking last Saturday, going 3 for 7 and scoring two of those goals within the first 21 seconds of the power play. The Huskies will likely need to continue that success with the man advantage in order to get the series sweep.
It's never easy sweep a season series and it's even harder to be any team six straight times over the course of a season. Complacency tends to set in at some point for the victor and hunger grows with each loss for the loser. Michigan Tech is the better team on paper and the way the last series went, the Huskies shouldn't take this weekend lightly.
The Huskies will punch their ticket to the Final Five with a series sweep, but one of the games will go to over time. 3-2 OT win on Friday, with a 5-2 win on Saturday.
Head Coach Mel Pearson was a guest on this week's edition of USCHO Live! You can listen to his interview below. They discuss the MacNaughton Cup, WCHA Playoffs, MTU scoring defense, Pearson's seat on the selection committee, and more. His interview starts around the 20 minute mark: