What happened last weekend?
The Michigan Tech Huskies celebrated their first series back in action after their GLI victory with a 1-0 loss Friday night at Minnesota-Duluth. GLI MVP Pheonix Copley stopped 10 of 11 first period shots before surrendering a breakaway goal. Things got away from the Huskies in the second period when they were outshot 21-10. On Saturday, the Huskies got goals from wingers Alex Petan, Ryan Furne and David Johnstone, along with one from defenseman Steven Seigo, but it wasn’t enough as they fell 5-4.
The Bemidji State Beavers had the tall task of hosting an angry Western Michigan Broncos squad whom the Huskies beat to win the GLI. In Friday night’s game, the Broncos held the Beavers to just 15 shots in a 6-0 drubbing. Saturday night, the Beavers got a pair of second period goals to take a 2-0 despite trailing 21-12 in shots. The third period was all Broncos, as they tied the game with a pair of goals less than two minutes apart. Neither team found the back of the net in overtime.
What were the positives the Huskies learned about themselves?
Friday night, despite not playing as well as he had in the GLI, Copley established the fact that he had turned a corner in net for the Huskies. Despite the sluggish showing in front of him, Copley gave the Huskies a chance to pull out a tie.
“Pheonix played well,” said Huskies’ head coach Mel Pearson. “All you can ask of him is to go out and give you a chance to win and he did that.”
Junior defenseman Daniel Sova returned to active duty in Saturday’s loss. While it was clear that he had not played a game in almost three months, Sova did a number of little things well.
“Sova is rusty,” said Pearson. “I thought he gave us good minutes, but he wasn’t a factor in either way. He was just there.”
Speaking of the junior class, Furne’s goal was his first since Oct. 20 against Minnesota.
What still needs work for the Huskies?
The “big three” from the Huskies’ junior class, Furne, Jacob Johnstone and Milos Gordic, have combined this season for 21 points. As a point of comparison, Petan, a freshman, has 18 points himself. Pearson’s staff is still waiting for these three to take that step forward and lead this team.
“We are trying to get Jake Johnstone and some of those guys going,” said Pearson. “They are going to have to get some puck luck and some bounces. That will help spark them. I think what they are finding and what we are finding out is that everyone is playing much harder against us this year.”
Not all the blame for this largely disappointing season rests on that offensive trio’s shoulders, however. The Huskies’ defensive effort has been lackluster at best for the most part this season. Offensively, the Huskies are just a handful of goals behind St. Cloud State (38 for Michigan Tech as opposed to 45 for St. Cloud State in WCHA games), but only Colorado College (62 goals against) has given up more goals than the Huskies.
“It’s not about scoring,” said Pearson. “We’re trying to get our team more focused on playing hard without the puck. Then we will get our chances.”
Goaltending has been a key part of the problem, however, with Copley’s stronger performances of late, it appears that may not be the case for long. The penalty kill has also become stronger since the early portion of the season.
The inside scoop: a look at the Beavers
The Beavers come into this weekend holding a two-point edge on the Huskies for 10th place in the WCHA standings. They have just three wins since the Huskies swept them in Bemidji back on Nov. 16 and 17. However, one of those wins came against the Bulldogs, the other at Denver, 5-1.
Seniors Brance Orban and Jordan George lead the offense for the Beavers with 15 and 13 points, respectively. Classmate Aaron MacLeod leads the team in goals with eight.
“I know that they are ahead of us in the standings and that’s all that matters to our team,” said Pearson. “They are a hard-working team. They skate well. They keep things simple and they don’t beat themselves. They can be tough to play against. You have to be patient. We know that.”
Between the pipes, sophomore Andrew Walsh continues to give the Beavers a chance to win every night. His 2.57 goals against average is eighth-best in the WCHA and places him above experienced netminders such as Sam Brittain from Denver, John Faulkner from Nebraska-Omaha, and Joe Howe and Josh Thorimbert from Colorado College.