What happened last weekend?
After struggling the previous weekend against the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, the Michigan Tech Huskies had a week off. The down time gave the Huskies a chance to work on areas of their game which had not been as sharp as others, including board battles on the forecheck and goaltending.
Coming off a strong showing on the road against the Mavericks during the last week of October, the Bemidji State Beavers continued their strong play Friday night at Colorado College. However, after tying the game late in the first period, the Beavers were held off the board the rest of the night, losing 3-2. On Saturday, the Tigers struck twice on the power play in the first period, and the Beavers never really recovered from those mistakes. They managed 17 shots in the third period, despite being outscored 3-1 in the frame.
What were the positives the Huskies learned about themselves?
Defensively, the Huskies have improved by leaps and bounds since their win over then No. 1 Minnesota. Captain Carl Nielsen, perhaps not the most vocal leader, has led with his play, and has drawn the younger members of the blue line under his wing. Junior Brad Stebner has also led by example.
“I can’t ask any more of Carl as a senior,” said Huskies’ head coach Mel Pearson. “I think [he] has played extremely well. Brad Stebner has also played extremely well.”
Three sophomores, Riley Sweeney, Justin Fillion, and Jimmy Davis, have become regulars in the lineup, and none of the three have given Pearson’s staff reason for concern.
“Those guys have done a nice job,” said Pearson. “I think Riley struggled at the start and he’s played much better the last two weeks. Justin, at Denver, was one of our best defensemen.”
Three skaters have really bought into the idea that you practice the way you want to play. Davis, junior center Dennis Rix, and senior winger Chad Pietila have all proven that old mantra really works. Rix is tied for second on the team in points with six and eighth in the country in goals with five, Pietila scored a pair of timely goals against the Gophers, and Davis notched his first career point at Denver.
What still needs work for the Huskies?
Two areas come immediately to mind when discussing the state of the Huskies right now: goaltending and offense. Neither has been as good the last two weeks as it was when the Huskies were beating Minnesota and Lake Superior State, and they will be the first to admit that is the case.
On the goaltending front, senior Kevin Genoe has been working hard in practice to begin distancing himself from the freshman duo of Pheonix Copley and Jamie Phillips. Copley has yet to deliver on the promise he showed against the Gophers while Phillips has yet to start a game.
“The one unfortunate thing about college…is that you don’t get a lot of exhibition games to give goalies a chance to play,” said Pearson. “I don’t think Pheonix is where we want him to be right now. I think Kevin Genoe is starting to play better. We have to give an opportunity to Jamie Phillips. I feel better about our goaltending than I did at the start of the year.”
Offensively, Pearson and his staff are waiting patiently for juniors Ryan Furne, Jacob Johnstone, and Milos Gordic to deliver. Gordic leads this group with four points, but they all came in the series with Lake Superior State. Furne and Johnstone each have a pair of points, but neither has had a point since Oct. 20, when Furne scored against the Gophers.
The inside scoop: a look at the Beavers
The Beavers come into this weekend looking forward to their first WCHA action at home this season. With a 1-2-1 record in league play on the road, the Beavers have started their league schedule quite well and will make a tough opponent for the Huskies due to their veteran presence among their top performers.
“They have a veteran-laden lineup,” said Pearson. “They are not going to beat themselves. You are going to have to go in and earn your victories. They are scrappy. They work hard.”
Six of the Beavers’ top seven scorers are upperclassmen, with five playing their final season in Green and White. Last season’s top scorer, Jordan George, is among those seniors hoping to have a great final season. The Madison, Wis., native has never scored less than 31 points in a season. Coming into Saturday night’s game with the Tigers, he picked up points in four consecutive games.
Fellow senior forwards Brance Orban and Ben Kinne have both picked up their games to help balance the Beavers’ attack. Orban, who broke out with 22 points last season, netted the game-winner in the Beavers’ first win this season against Lake Superior State. Kinne, a fifth-year senior, has points in five straight games.
Facing a lunch-bucket team coming out of their bye week might be just what the Huskies need to shake off some of their struggles.