Huskies Score 14 Goals, Will Return to Fourth Straight WCHA Semifinals
The first round of the WCHA Playoffs was definitely a statement for the Michigan Tech Huskies. In the first play-or-go-home weekend of the season, the Huskies announced to the rest of the league that they aren't going anywhere with 6-4 and 8-0 victories over UP neighbors Lake Superior State. While it is debatable whether Tech drew the best possible opponent for the Quarterfinal round, the Huskies made the most of their match up while many other highly ranked teams were given some trouble.
Familiar Foe, Similar Results
Over the last two seasons, the Huskies have now posted a 7-0-1 record against the LSSU Lakers. The Huskies have outscored the Lakers 37-11 over that span. To this end, the Huskies were glad to draw Lake State in their first home ice playoff series. Whether it is the dynamic between MTU Head Coach Mel Pearson and LSSU Head Coach Damon Whitten, Pearson just knowing his way around the Laker game, or the two styles of play lining up well for the Huskies, Tech has had recent success against Lake State.
The Huskies are now 3rd nationally for most total shots on goal (1279), while being in the lowest quarter of teams nationally in shots against (923). The Lakers are in the worst quarter of teams, giving up some of the highest total shots allowed this season (1158). This pattern has been consistent throughout the last few seasons, the only tie between the two teams coming in December 2015, when LSSU kept the shots about even. The shot differential this weekend speaks very well to how these two teams matched up in favor of MTU; the Huskies out-shot LSSU 89-34, nearly 3-1 over the weekend.
"Are you sure you've got room for all us on your back?"
Friday was no different, the Huskies jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on goals by Alex Smith (Fr., F) and Reid Sturos (Sr., F). Reid "Rod" Sturos would continue to rack up 5 points, 7 shots, and a +6 rating on the weekend. Mark Auk (Jr., D) would later comment via Instagram (below) "Rod, are you sure you've got room for all of us on your back?"
Goals Lead to Goaltending Changes (at least temporarily)
Friday was a night of goalie changes all around. The Huskies would chase Junior goaltender Gordon Defiel (Jr., G - LSSU) from the net after taking a 5-2 lead near the end of the first. Defiel returned for the start of the second, but was pulled again in favor of Nick Kossoff (So., G - LSSU) when Jake Jackson (So., F) scored his second of the night off a play by Sturos. Once settled into his second appearance in net, Kossoff allowed no further MTU goals. It was Angus "Beef" Redomond (Fr., G) who was later pulled from the game after allowing four in what should have been a very one sided score. Matt Wintjes (Sr., G) was not required to make a save in his 1:25 of ice time.
Both Defiel and Redmond started Saturday. Redmond appears to have settled down from being pulled Friday, as he posted a 16 save shutout, his fourth of the year.
Tech Lights Up Lakers Saturday
Similar to Friday, the Huskies jumped out to an early 1-0 lead off the stick of Reid Sturos. Unlike Friday, that first goal would be the eventual game winner. Tech scored four goals on special teams: three PPG off the sticks of L'Esperance, Gould and Auk as well as a beautiful short handed goal from Michael Neville (check it out at the 1:25 mark of the video).
At one point in MTU's rout over LSSU Saturday it appeared as if the Lakers had given up. The Lakers were barely attempting to get back on defense, leaving Defiel to face the surging Michigan Tech forwards often by himself. Due to both Laker breakdowns defensively and MTU forecheck pressure, Tech scored five goals in the third period Saturday to seal the deal. The icing on the quaterfinals cake came at the 19:48.2 mark of the third with Joel L'Esperance unguarded in the sweet spot of the slot. L'Esperance received a pass from Tyler Heinonen (Sr., F) and there was nothing Defiel could do to stop it.
THG Three Stars of The Weekend
When eight skaters rack up multiple point weekends, and four have two multi-point nights, it is very hard to choose three stars.
- Reid Sturos (Sr., F) - 2G, 3A, 7SOG and +6 on the weekend, including the first (and game winning) goal Saturday. Sturos is tied for first on the team in goals (10) and points (24). Sturos now has 75 career points in a Huskies sweater.
- Joel L'Esperance (Jr., F) - 2G, 3A, 5SOG and +3 on the weekend. The Junior forward has a team leading 5 power play goals and is tied for first with Sturos in both team goals and points on the season. It will be exciting to watch these two push each other as the playoffs continue. L'Esperance was awarded WCHA Offensive Player Of the Week Honorable Mention for his efforts.
- Mike Neville (Sr., F) - 1SHG, 4A, 5SOG and +6 on the weekend. Neville has taken a significant step forward in his senior season, having posted 20 points this season (57 career).
What Else Happened this Weekend?
Elsewhere in the WCHA, there were three other playoff series going on. Each of the highest ranked teams won their series, but that didn't mean there wasn't room for contest.
#8 Northern Michigan at #1 Bemidji State
0-4 BSU, 4-2 NMU, 1-4 BSU (BSU takes series in 3)
This was the only series this weekend which went to a third game. NMU, who had been on a relative surge as of late, took the #1-seeded Bemidji State Beavers to Sunday play. While both teams have an expectation of outstanding goaltending to lead to success, the Wildcats relied so heavily on Atte Tolvanen (So., G - NMU) that any failure there was their undoing. Beavers however came out victorious by outshooting the Wildcates 103-71.
#6 Alaska at #3 Minnesota State
0-3 MSU, 1-4 MSU (MSU takes series in 2)
Minnesota State took care of business in Mankato over the weekend, not winning entirely as securely as MTU over LSSU, but they weren't in a couple of tight games either. Jason Pawloski (So., G - MSU) allowed just one goal on 53 shots on the weekend (98.1 SV%). MSU is Tech's next opponent in the semifinals, and by all counts they could be the strongest opponent remaining.
#5 Ferris State at #4 Bowling Green
1-6 BGSU, 3-5 BGSU (BGSU takes series in 2)
This series could easily have gone to three games, had it not been for a three unanswered goal streak by the Falcons late in the third on Saturday. Ferris State was leading 3-2 before BGSU started scoring with less than 3:00 to play. The Falcons and Bulldogs were nearly even in shots over the weekend. Look for BGSU to head into Bemidji next weekend and have difficulty with scoring.