What happened last weekend?
The Michigan Tech Huskies jumped out to a 4-1 lead Friday night against Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves. Unfortunately, that was the best the Huskies could do, as the Seawolves clawed back, eventually winning 5-4 with a late pair of goals. Saturday night, the Huskies ripped the Seawolves apart, winning, 6-1. Tuesday, the Huskies continued their hot hand, taking a big bite out of the Northern Michigan Wildcats, 8-2.
On Friday night, the Minnesota State Mavericks trailed the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 2-1 heading into the third period. An early goal followed five and a half minutes later by a goal from Teddy Blueger helped the Mavericks regain the lead. Another late goal sealed the deal, 4-2, for the Mavericks. Saturday, the Mavericks struck three times in the first period and twice more in the third en route to a 5-1 victory and the sweep.
Why an unconventional line combination works
As freshmen, forwards Milos Gordic, Ryan Furne, and Jacob Johnstone finished as three of the top four scorers for the Huskies.
Now juniors, the trio struggled out of the gates. Huskies’ head coach Mel Pearson did the only logical thing imaginable when it became clear that all three were in a deep funk, he put all three of the struggling forwards together on the same line.
“They are excited to be with each other,” said Pearson. “I think that is what it really is. They are feeding off each other and now you have a little success that even fuels them more. That’s the chemistry you are talking about.”
The move has, perhaps surprisingly, indeed spurred the offensive outputs of all three skaters. Furne has notched eight points in the last eight games. Gordic has five points in his last eight. Johnstone has three in his last four games. Each of the three have scored notched at least one goal over the team’s last three games.
“Freshman year we played together the entire year,” said Johnstone, “We had great line chemistry. Once coach put us together in practice we could just see the line chemistry just come right back. We get excited to play with one another. We always know where each other is going to be. It’s just the same mindset on the ice.”
Pearson refers to that excitement the three of them share as chemistry created by the trio enjoying skating alongside their linemates.
“You have to be excited about the guys you are playing with,” said Pearson. “If you are, that’s going to make you work that much harder and be excited to come to rink.”
How’s that depth on defense working out?
Losing captain Carl Nielsen after just a few shift Tuesday night should have proved very costly for the Huskies against their rivals. Freshman Walker Hyland’s strong play helped ease that burden.
“He’s played well, not just offensively but also defensively,” said Pearson. “His puck touches are good. He’s a smart player. He reads the ice well. He has good vision.”
Hyland did not play Friday night against the Seawolves. Replacing sophomore Justin Fillion in the lineup on Saturday night, Hyland posted a goal, an assist, and three shots. He followed that performance with another two-point night on Tuesday.
Perhaps more impressively he has notched five points in his last three games. However, that is not why Pearson has inserted him into the lineup.
“For me, it’s always been about his defense, and making sure he can play well defensively,” said Pearson. “He’s done a real good job there and that’s why he got into the lineup, not so much for the offense, but just because he can good solid minutes on defense.”
Scouting the Mavericks
The WCHA’s other Mavericks are battling for a home playoff spot. Sporting a 12-9-1 record in league play, the Mavericks are currently tied for fifth with Denver and Wisconsin with 25 points. Where the Mavericks have been even more impressive is outside of league play, where they’ve gone 6-0-2, including wins over Providence, Brown, and Rensselaer.
“We have to go in and play a great road game,” said Pearson. “We have to be disciplined, not give their power play chances. If you give them over three or four chances a game, eventually they are going to score. They are just too good.”
Sophomore Matt Leitner and senior Eriah Hayes have been the Mavericks’ top scorers. Leitner leads the Mavericks in assists (23) and points (33). Hayes leads in goals (16), power play goals (10), and penalty minutes (41).
Blueger, potentially the Mavericks’ best recruit since current St. Louis Blues’ captain David Backes, has, at times, been one of the top players in the WCHA, notching three points on three different nights.
Freshman Stephon Williams has wrestled the starting job in goal away from senior Phil Cook. The youngster has been nearly lights-out for the Mavericks in league play, where he’s posted a WCHA-best 1.91 goals against average and three shutouts. His 92.7% saves percentage in WCHA games is second only to Landon Peterson of Wisconsin.
The Mavericks feature one of the WCHA’s top power plays, clicking at 22%, good for third in the league. Their penalty kill is also quite strong, as the Mavericks boast an 83.5% penalty kill, good for fourth in league play.