Weekend Wrap Up: WCHA Championship Game

Huskies Win First Ever Broadmoor Trophy

Shane Hanna Scores in 2OT Thriller to Send Tech to the NCAA Tourney

It took nearly two extra periods for the Michigan Tech Huskies to battle through the BGSU Falcons Saturday night at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena, but a long breakout pass by Matt Roy (Jr., D) to his defensive partner Shane Hanna (Sr., D) ended in a 3-2 victory for the Huskies. Hanna had two points on the night.

Joel "The Hope" L'Esperance and Jake Jackson Come Up Big in 2nd Period

While Tech started the game off strong, play in the first period was largely back-and-forth and tight defensively. Both teams had limited scoring opportunities and shot totals for both teams were in single digits. Tech was outshot 8-6, but in reality both teams were limited to a few grade-A chances. Defenders of both teams locked down entrances into the offensive zones, and whistles were minimized. Tech did have a few good looks late in the period by Reid Sturos (Sr., F) and Jake Lucchini (So., F), but they couldn't capitalize.

The second period was a different story. L'Esperance (French for "The Hope", Jr., F) finally broke the scoring partway into the 2nd when Alex Gilles (Jr., F) picked a pass at the BGSU blue line. Gilles drove deep to the glove side of goaltender Chris Nell (G., Jr - BGSU), but instead of taking the tight angled shot, Gilles dished the puck to the slot for the trailing L'Esperance. He didn't miss, and in beating the sprawling Nell put the Huskies up 1-0. L'Esperance leads the Huskies this season with 27pts and 11G (tied: Sturos (Sr., F), Gould (Fr., F)).

The Huskies would take a 2-0 lead later in the 2nd on a beautiful display of patience by Jake Jackson (So., F). The San Jose Sharks draftee received the puck at the top of the right circle dragged the puck around two BGSU defenders diagonally all the way down to the red line to the left of Nell. Jackson was nearly behind the net when he fired. The wide change in direction threw Nell off balance, and there was nothing he could have done once Jackson shot besides flail wildly.

Defense Leads by Example

In the 3rd, BGSU really came out strong, and the Huskies were thrown back on their heels. Tech was outshot 11-2 in the 3rd and gave up two quick goals to allow the game to go into overtime. The saying is "bend, don't break" though, and that's what the Huskies did. Neither team took a penalty in the 3rd period, although it appears that the WCHA refs were allowing the teams a little more leeway to play than earlier in the year. MTU bent and came back in OT, leading the shot differential 10-7 and 3-2 in the OT periods, respectively. Most importantly however, was the offensive play the Tech defenders made in the second overtime period.

It has been well documented that MTU's defensive core is the strength of the team. So of course the 2OT game winner came off the sticks of two MTU defensemen. Los Angeles Kings-draftee Matt Roy was regrouping in the defensive zone during a BGSU change. Mike Neville (Sr., F) had pitched the puck back to him to set something up. He did. From his defensive zone dots, Roy saw his defensive partner Hanna breaking deep and made a spot-on pass all the way to the offensive zone blue line. By the time he received the bullet, Hanna was already behind the man defending him and it was off to the races. Two or three skates forward put Hanna into the high slot and his wrist shot to the high glove side of Nell put the game away. The whole play took 3-4 seconds and left the JMSIA going crazy and BGSU stunned.

THG Three Stars of the Game

  1. Shane Hanna - 1G, 1A including the 2OT game winner off the pass from Matt Roy. Hanna had the second assist on Jake Jackson's drag goal. Hanna was named WCHA Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
  2. Jake Jackson - 1G. His solo effort put the Huskies up 2-0 late in the 2nd. If you didn't see his goal, check it out below at the 1:51 mark
  3. Matt Roy - 1A. Roy's textbook lead pass from the dots in his own defensive zone to Hanna at the offensive blue line created the breakaway opportunity which won the game. That pass is at 5:07 in the video below.

Honorable Mention: Mike Neville whose 2A earned him WCHA Offensive Player of the Week and Joel L'Esperance for his 1G and 5SOG on the night.

Capacity Crowd Brings Down the House

It was well documented that the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena had a long wait for student tickets. BGSUHockey.com's Kevin Gordon reports tickets to the WCHA Championship game were selling for $200 on Craigslist. So it should be no surprise that the JMSIA was filled to Fire Marshall capacity and that the environment at the game was truly electric, loud and exactly what the WCHA envisioned for their new on-campus playoff format.

Listed Attendance Stats:

  • WCHA Championship (2017): 4466
  • NCHC Championship: 10297
  • B1G Championship: 5601
  • ECAC Championship:  4830
  • Atlantic Hockey Championship: 680
  • Hockey East Championship: 12309
  • WCHA Championship (2016): 4048

Looking at the overall attendance numbers, it is easy to say that the WCHA has a long way to go to reach the high attendance numbers of conferences like the NCHC and Hockey East. However, these numbers are a bit deceiving. Conference tournaments like the NCHC and B1G count the total ticket sales for the tournament weekend in the attendance count of each game. So there were not necessarily 5601 in attendance at the B1G conference championship game, but there were 5601 ticket packages sold for the weekend. The other factor to consider when looking at attendance numbers is how big a crowd of 5601 appears in an NHL stadium with capacity for 20,000+. To this end, the B1G will be matching the WCHA's playoff structure in 2017-2018 to return playoffs to on-campus.

While attendance at this year's WCHA championship was in the end only 10% higher than at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids last season, the change in atmosphere was palpable with a full stadium. The entire Houghton-Hancock community had a role in the game,  MTU fans and students stormed the ice following the game, leading to some great photo opportunities. This is exactly where the WCHA would prefer: crowded, engaged arenas, big student draws, and community involvement. The on-campus playoff format appears to be a winner. 

MTU in the Rankings

MTU heads into the NCAA tournament as the lowest seed at #27 in the PWR. The Huskies will face #1 overall seed Denver on Saturday, March 25that 1:00pmEST on ESPNews. Mike Neville, Shane Hanna and Angus Redmond (G., Fr) were awarded WCHA Offensive, Defensive and Rookie of the Week Honors, respectively.

Cover photo courtesy: Bob Gilreath (March 18th, 2017).