After a tough weekend at home against the Nebraska–Omaha Mavericks, the Michigan Tech Huskies have an early opportunity to “return to the drawing board” in the hopes of getting out of their slump next weekend at Bemidji State.
What happened last weekend?
The Huskies struggled out of the gates Friday night. They looked tentative in the first period, getting out shot 7–2 in the frame. In the second period, the Mavericks jumped out to the lead before winger Blake Pietila tied the game. From there, the Huskies seemed to settle in, taking charge and drawing three power plays in the third period. Unfortunately, the final advantage went to the Mavericks, however, as they scored shorthanded with 70 seconds left in regulation.
On Saturday night, the Huskies looked much better in the first period, getting several scoring chances and striking when winger David Johnstone notched his first of the year. The second period was nearly all Mavericks, however, as they struck four times to the Huskies’ one on their way to a 5–3 win and series sweep.
What went well for the Huskies?
The Huskies’ top six forwards seemed to set themselves apart this past weekend, despite their youth. The Huskies’ top two lines feature two freshmen and three sophomores.
“We’re a young team in some critical areas up front,” said Huskies’ assistant coach Damon Whitten. “We’ll be fine. We just have to figure out to win those close games.”
Freshman center Jujhar Khaira continues to get stronger with each game. Saturday night, he nearly connected with winger Alex Petan on what would have been a beautiful goal in the first period.
“He’s a true freshman,” said Whitten. “He’s big, he’s strong, so right away he can fit right physically into the game. He’s going to be a big piece moving forward.”
Youth is also served along the blueline. Sophomores Riley Sweeney, Justin Fillion and Jimmy Davis have all stepped up to fill the gap left by the injury to junior Daniel Sova.
“The Sova injury kind of caused us to jumble our d-pairings a bit,” said Whitten. “They are kind of looking to get that continuity back there. Jimmy Davis has come in and done a pretty good job. Justin Fillion has taken on an expanded role and done a good job with that.”
What still needs work for the Huskies?
If any one area still has several kinks, it is in net. Senior Kevin Genoe played well Friday night, but both goals he surrendered were goals he felt he could have stopped. Saturday, freshman Pheonix Copley struggled for the third straight game. The second goal against him came through traffic, while the third was banked in off of him after he left the near post too early.
“It’s a battle every day,” said Whitten. “Kevin’s numbers are looking better…he’s giving himself a chance to earn more time. Whether it’s Kevin, Jamie [Phillips] or Pheonix, one of them needs to emerge. They are going to be there.”
Juniors Ryan Furne and Jacob Johnstone have both struggled offensively to start the season, and their struggles are reflected in the Huskies’ struggles to score goals. However, head coach Mel Pearson and his staff are not focusing as much on getting the pair going as they are getting the whole forward group going.
“I think as a team, we’ve struggled to put pucks in the net,” said Whitten. “Guys that have led our team in scoring in the past or been our top guys, they need to do the same. You have to continually raise your game.”
What are the Huskies working on this week?
While the Huskies as a team might prefer to get back on the ice this weekend and attempt to straighten themselves out, this break might be what Pearson’s staff needs in order to reaffirm what they expect of the players, both offensively and defensively.
“We’re using it to adjust some areas,” said Whitten. “We’ve talked about our d-zone cover, tightening up a little bit. At the other end of the ice, we’ve talked about converting on our offensive chances as well.”
The staff has been working on things like tempo and odd-man rushes, since the Huskies have been either too willing to make a poor pass, or too quick to take a poor angled shot at times this season.
“We’ve spent a lot time this week working on converting on our odd-man rushes,” said Whitten. “Bearing down, hitting the net. We’ve missed the net on some great opportunities.”
The Huskies are not really focusing on what Bemidji State brings, but more on what they can do night in and night out. While at times they have put it all together against Minnesota and Lake Superior State, they’ve struggled against Denver and Nebraska–Omaha. Each of those last two weekends, however, the Huskies have done some small things very well. It is just a matter of time before they put it back together.