Huskies Split with #12 Fighting Irish
Tech wrapped up the weekend with a split in South Bend against a ranked opponent this weekend. Overall, the feel to the last three games (Western Michigan at the GLI and Notre Dame over this past weekend) was of a Michigan Tech Huskies team setting the tone for the rest of the season and potential post season. Angus Redmond (Fr., G) has been playing in prime form, and the defense has been rolling at preseason expectations. Now MTU needs to find some offensive groove against teams which can also skate, and special teams needs to prove to itself that it can score as well as kill penalties.
Where does Tech Sit for an NCAA Bid Through Week 15?
One big question as we pass into the second half of the season is how Tech can get into the NCAA tourney. Tech is currently in position #24 of the Pairwise Ranking System, which is well outside the top 12, which is typically the window to receive an at-large bid. Currently, the best route to the NCAA tournament is through the WCHA playoffs and winning the Broadmoor Trophy. With weak non-conference records, there may not be any at-large bids awarded to the WCHA.
Tech is positioned at #2 in the WCHA standings, 13 conference points behind Bemidji State with four games in hand. The Huskies seem to be trending upward, while the Beavers are in decline (BSU hasn't received all six points in a conference series since splitting with Tech on Dec. 2-3, 2016). By winning those four games in hand, the Huskies could come within one point of BSU for home ice throughout the WCHA playoffs. Tech and BSU face off once more in Bemidji on Feb. 2-3, 2016 in what will likely be a conference-deciding series. It is very possible that the Huskies could still take the MacNaughton Cup and home ice despite the Beavers' great start to the season. The Huskies are not mathematically eliminated from an at large bid, and could still potentially receive one through a lot of pieces falling into the right places, however the best route will be through the Broadmoor Trophy.
Lack of Scoring Leads to Loss on Friday
Scoring has been the largest question for this Huskies team, recently, and the lack of offense let Friday's game slip away. With early-season goaltending and defensive questions answered, the lack of scoring is really the only concern for this team. The Huskies are scoring on average 2.58 goals per game, which is only good for 43rd nationally. Since taking over in net 18 games ago, Redmond allowed three goals for the third time on Friday. Tech was unable to able to score 3+ to support him. Tech will need to find the answer to this question down the stretch. The lone goal on Friday for the Huskies was, fortunately, a power play goal off the stick of Joel L'Esperance (Jr., F), his seventh of the year. L'Esperance was fed by a nice hard pass-shot from Matt Roy (Jr., D) at the point. The Huskies went 1/9 on the power play over the weekend and now has a 17.2% power play on the season (35th nationally).
Offensive questions aside, the Husky defense kept Tech in the game. Notre Dame carried play for most of the 1st and 2nd periods and was able to come out of their defensive zone with speed and ease for most of the first two periods. Despite of all that, Tech's defense kept the Huskies in the game through 2 periods. Tech was then able to find the next gear to open the third period and started to carry the play. However, Tech gave up the two goals in the third and never got the ice to tip back in their favor.
Huskies Find Some Offense on Saturday
Tech came out on Saturday and put four behind Notre Dame goaltender Cal Petersen (Jr., G). Overall, the Huskies were able to find some scoring from under-classmen forwards like Alex Smith and Gavin Gould. Tech will need these guys to continue to find the back of the net in the second half of the season. These were often well earned goals, like the hard fought goal off the stick of Gavin Gould (Fr., F) who won his own rebound and scored on a second chance. The game was often back and forth, similar to Friday's match, but the Huskies were able to generate more offense. With the win on Saturday, the Huskies showed they can compete with many ranked teams, which ultimately may have allowed the Huskies to break into the USCHO.com Division I Men's Poll top 20
THG Three Stars of the Weekend
- Alex Smith (Fr., F) - 1 Goal, 1 Assist in Saturday's win. The Huskies will need Freshmen like Smith to find the back of the net often. Smith has 13 points on the season, tied with L'Esperance and Hanna for 2nd most on the team.
- Joel L'Esperance - 1 PP Goal in Friday's loss, ending the MTU Power Play drought. L'Esperance also had to endure having his name repeatedly mispronounced by the national broadcasters. L'Esperance was the only one to find the back of the net Friday, and the Huskies will need him firing on all cylinders in the second half of the season.
- Shane Hanna (Sr., D) - 2A and 9 SOG over the weekend. Hanna has 13 points on the season (5G, 8A) was one of the more effective defensemen over the weekend.
Honorable Mention: The Michigan Tech Fans who came out in droves in South Bend to support the Huskies this weekend. The road fan support has not been lost on the team and "Let's Go Huskies" chants could be heard during Saturday's broadcast.
Michigan Tech in the Rankings
Big news for Huskies fans this week as MTU has finally broke into the top 20 of the USCHO.com Division I Men's Poll. The Huskies are 11 points below #19 Cornell and will have to double or triple their points in future weeks to continue to climb beyond there. Tech is solidly in #24 of the Pairwise Ranking System, breaking their tie with Clarkson. The Huskies have two more series with opponents in the upper half of the PWR: in two weeks when they host Minnesota State and in four weeks when they travel to Bemidji State. The Huskies are in #2 in the WCHA Standings, 13 conference points behind BSU with four games in hand. Tech has secured #1 in the THG WCHA Web Media Poll. Shane Hanna (Sr., D) and Alex Smith (Fr., F) received WCHA Honorable Mentions for defensive and rookie of the week, respectively.
The Huskies made some news on Friday when Hero Sports picked MTU as a dark horse in the NCAA tournament along with Omaha and Union. We think the Huskies should focus first on winning out and securing the Broadmoor before considering themselves a Frozen Four sleeper.