While year two of the Mel Pearson era started with so much promise, only to seemingly derail in November, the Michigan Tech Huskies have shown that they are building in the right direction.
“We’re not that far off,” said Huskies’ head coach Mel Pearson. “Given our schedule, except for one or two games, every other night we’ve been in the games. Hopefully that will translate to more wins in the second half.”
The season began with questions about where the offense was going to come from and who would be stopping pucks. Offensively, the Huskies lost their top two scorers in Brett Olson and Jordan Baker to graduation, while Josh Robinson also completed his four-year run in net.
The Huskies opened their season with a home-and-home series with future Western Collegiate Hockey Association rival Lake Superior State. The teams traded wins in their own buildings, but the Huskies’ win was arguably more impressive considering they posted eight goals.
“I think we get scoring form where we expected to,” said Pearson. “Certainly B lake Pietila, Tanner Kero, Jujhar Khaira and Alex Petan have done what we expected them to do. We need Ryan Furne, Milos Gordic, Jacob Johnstone and Chad Pietila to a step forward.”
The Huskies opened their WCHA schedule with a home series against then-no. 1 Minnesota. Freshman goaltender Pheonix Copley frustrated the Gophers at every turn as the Huskies won Friday before losing a tight game Saturday.
“Our goaltending has been average,” said Pearson. “Our freshmen have played well at times, but not enough. Kevin [Genoe] has played well on the road, but has struggled at home. We need them to get better, more consistent.”
After the impressive showing, the Huskies struggled to repeat that success over the next two weekends, dropping five consecutive games in which goaltending proved inconsistent and the offense dried up just as quickly.
To make matters worse, the Huskies’ defense, thought to be a potential strength, crumbled under the loss of junior Daniel Sova to injury.
“I don’t think they’ve played as well as I’d hoped,” said Pearson. “While they have been playing better lately, there’s been too many turnovers. Our goals against average is too high, and they are a part of that.”
Khaira and Petan, the outstanding recruits who rank among the Huskies’ top scorers, caught fire when it appeared the Huskies were at their lowest, and the dynamic duo have begun to score on a consistent basis, which helped lift the team to back-to-back victories over Bemidji State on the road.
“We put them in tough situations every night,” said Pearson. “They are both getting great experienced. I am really pleased with where they are right now.”
While the results haven’t been what Pearson and his staff could have asked for, the Huskies have begun playing better of late, grabbing three consecutive league ties as well as surviving a stretch of five games in eight days. Being able sub in players like center Daniel Holmberg and wingers Aaron Pietila and Blake Hietala has helped lessen the burden of so much hockey lately.
Despite two losses at the hands of North Dakota, the Huskies are heading into the Great Lakes Invitational with a good shot at making it to the title game. However, they will have to do it without the services of one Blake Pietila, who will be representing the USA in the World Junior Hockey Championship tournament.
“Blake has played well every night,” said Pearson. “He plays in every situation for us. He’s had a really good first half. Obviously, I’d like to have him for the GLI, but I am glad he is going to represent his country.”
This week the players are getting a little bit of a break, or as Pearson calls it, “a chance to get away from hockey for a little while.” Next week, they’ll get back to work preparing for Pearson’s former employer, Michigan. Even without Blake Pietila to score goals, the Huskies have a real shot at making some noise at this year’s tournament.