What happened last weekend?
Last Friday, the Michigan Tech Huskies skated into a matchup with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s top team, the St. Cloud State Huskies looking to gain some momentum. The hosts nearly made the game a blowout before Michigan Tech could get on the board, jumping out to a 4-0 lead. Michigan Tech cut the lead to one but ultimately fell, 5-3. On Saturday, Michigan Tech got three points from freshman Alex Petan and scored five consecutive goals. Freshman Jamie Phillips surrendered just one in a 5-1 win.
On Friday night, the Colorado College Tigers found themselves down 1-0 3:38 into the second period. From that point forward, the hosts scored the next four goals, including a pair from Alexander Krushelnyski, to defeat the visiting Minnesota State Mavericks. 4-1. Saturday night, the Mavericks, already leading 2-1, scored five consecutive goals, including four straight on the power play, to down the hosts, 7-2.
Why go with Jamie Phillips after a loss?
If you had forgotten that the Huskies brought in two new goaltenders before season began, you are not alone. After coming in relief against North Dakota back on Dec. 14, Phillips nearly went two months before seeing action again, but he worked hard with volunteer coach Steve Shields. His next three appearances also came in relief.
“A lot of credit goes to him for his work ethic and his stick to it and stay with it,” said Huskies’ head coach Mel Pearson. “He’s worked on things. I think he’s come a long way. I think it’s been frustrating for him, but I give him a lot of credit just for hanging in there and keep battling.”
Phillips, a seventh-round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets, came into the season with high expectations, but it quickly became apparent that he was perhaps not ready for the pressure being a draft pick at Michigan Tech entailed.
Phillips was forced to the end of the bench while senior Kevin Genoe shined on the road and classmate Pheonix Copley shined at home. He had to learn patience. His hard work paid off Saturday night as the Caledonia, Ont., native did not disappoint, notching 36 saves to earn his first win of the season.
“Sometimes all you need is that opportunity,” said Pearson. “We talk about that a lot, when you get your opportunity to play, be ready. He was, and he did, and good for him. He even increases the competition further.”
With all these young scoring forwards, is there any concern that they might not stick around?
After the Huskies beat the Michigan Wolverines at the Great Lakes Invitational, the first question asked of freshman Jujhar Khaira was something to the effect of how long he intended to stay in school. While it may have been made as a joke, the reality at this point in the season is that he is one of five underclassmen leading the Huskies in scoring.
The quintet continues to be impact players for the Huskies, and all are leaned on heavily to pitch in offensively. Together, they have helped the Huskies win the GLI for the first time in 32 seasons and win at the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud for the first time in 15 years.
Despite all of their success, Pearson and his staff remain optimistic that the majority of the Huskies’ top forwards will stick around for another couple of seasons in the silver and gold before moving on to the next level as they all love playing for the Huskies.
“All our young guys take things pretty hard,” said Pearson. “They have a big stake in this and they want to see this program get turned around. As they do well, people will notice. We are all set for at least one more year with this group.”
It seems like we keep asking this question, but just how good is Alex Petan?
After potting five goals in a three-game span, Petan went two straight games without scoring a point. The Huskies lost both of those games, Feb. 16 at Minnesota State and Friday night at St. Cloud State. Saturday night, he stormed back with his fourth three-point night of the season.
“He’s a streaky scorer,” said Pearson. “He’s a perfectionist. He wants to do well, not only for himself, but for the team.”
In the third period on Saturday, Petan netted his 14th goal of the season, tying him with sophomore Blake Pietila for the team lead. He now has 31 points in 32 games, not bad for a 5’-8”, 155-pound winger from Delta, B.C.
“He gets upset with himself when he has an off-night,” said Pearson. “He takes it personally that he’s letting the team down. That’s good because you have to love to win, but you have to hate to lose. I think Alex has that attitude.”
The key to Petan’s success lies with his teammates. The emergence of the junior line has given the Huskies three solid scoring lines, which keeps opposing teams from keying on him. Also, Petan continues to log big minutes on the power play, which means he has more ice to work with.
Scouting the Tigers
Last season, the Tigers took a huge bite out of the Huskies in Colorado Springs. The sweep cost the Huskies any chance at a home playoff spot as it dropped them all the way to eighth place. It was the Huskies who got the last laugh, however, as they swept the Tigers in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs the following weekend.
This season, a sweep of the Huskies will not help the Tigers leapfrog anyone in the standings. They are firmly entrenched in the eighth spot in the league with a 10-12-4 record, good for 24 points in WCHA play. However, they would probably still like to get some revenge for last season.
“They are dynamic up front, very skilled,” said Pearson. “They have some talented players that we are going to have to be aware of.”
Senior Rylan Schwartz stuck around for his final season, but while he has set a new career high with 42 points, he probably wishes he had left early, as it has been a rough season for the Tigers. Krushelnyski, now a junior, is enjoying a breakout campaign, having notched 13 goals and 36 points in 34 games.
The weakest link in the Tigers’ lineup is their goaltending, which has mirrored the Huskies’ struggles at times. Senior Joe Howe has been pedestrian at best with a record of 9-9-4, a goals against average of 3.20, and a save percentage of 90.5%. Junior Josh Thorimbert has been even worse with a 4-7-1 record and a goals against average of 3.73.
What is the goal for the final weekend of the regular season?
A sweep by the Huskies along with a Nebraska-Omaha sweep at home against Minnesota-Duluth would vault the Huskies into the ninth seed, giving them a matchup with whoever finishes fourth. A three-point weekend would not be enough to do it as the Huskies lost three of four to the Bulldogs this season.