What happened last weekend?
Coming off a big victory over rival Northern Michigan at home, the Michigan Tech Huskies traveled to take on the then-No. 4 Michigan Wolverines. The Huskies gave a solid accounting of themselves, but in the end that was not enough, as the Huskies dropped both games by one goal. Friday night, the Huskies trailed 2-0 before tying the game. The Wolverines would win in overtime. On Saturday, the Wolverines took a 2-0 lead in the third period. The Huskies cut the lead to one, but could not find the equalizer.
The Michigan State Spartans played a pair of games at home against American International and took both games to improve their record to 3-3-0 on the season. On Friday, the Spartans jumped ahead 5-1 five and a half minutes into the third. The Yellow Jackets went to work, cutting the lead all the way down to one before falling, 5-4. On Saturday, the Spartans lead 2-0 after two periods. In the third, the Spartans struck twice more to skate away with a 4-0 victory.
The rising of Pheonix
Since the Huskies’ 7-3 loss in a penalty-filled affair with Notre Dame in which he did not play, sophomore Pheonix Copley has started every game the Huskies have played. In that stretch, he has averaged just two goals against each game.
“He’s definitely ahead of last year at this point,” said head coach Mel Pearson. “[He’s] much more calm in the net, more confident in the net, and handling the puck better. He’s done extremely well.”
Through six games this season, Copley’s numbers back up Pearson’s praise. His goals against average has dropped from 3.22 last season to 2.17 this season. His save percentage has similarly improved, going from 90.0% last season to 93.7% now.
Speed thrills: the development of C.J. Eick
In 36 games a season ago, Huskies’ fans were witness to the start of something special whenever then-freshman C.J. Eick took the ice. His unbelievable speed led Pearson to use him in critical situations in an attempt to change the nature of a game. He scored just three times, but none was bigger than his goal in game two of the WCHA playoffs against North Dakota.
This season, Eick has picked up right where he left off.
“Instead of just looking to ice the puck and kill time we are looking to make plays and try to score,” said Pearson. “I think that’s the one difference. I think C.J. has a ton more confidence this year than last year. You can just see it when he goes in on those breakaways.”
Eick had just three goals and seven points last season. In just eight games this season, Eick has a pair of goals and three points, proving that all the hard work he put in last season is paying off.
“He’s going to get more opportunities with his speed and his quickness,” said Pearson. “He’s going to catch guys off-guard. I don’t think he realizes how good he can be.”
One continued issue in need of further work: the power play
The Huskies lost one third of their power play goals from last season in the graduation of Steven Seigo and the early departure of Jujhar Khaira. This season, the Huskies have scored just three power play goals so far.
While Pearson and his staff had hoped to basically insert new players into those emptied spots and keep the momentum they built last season going, but so far, that has not been the case.
“We have to put more emphasis on our power play,” said Pearson. “We have to work more at the power play. We’ve been trying to do that here over the last couple of weeks. I think we are making some progress, obviously, be we still have to get better.”
The inside scoop: a look at the Spartans
The Spartans may not be Notre Dame or Michigan, but that does not mean they will not provide a difficult opponent for the Huskies. After dropping three straight games to open their season, the Spartans knocked off Boston University before sweeping American International.
“They are a good team,” said Pearson. “Just because they are not rated in the Top-5, we can’t think that somehow it’s going to be any easier. We have to make sure that we are ready to play and play hard.”
Former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios has a pair of sons playing for the Spartans. Both are seniors, with Jake leading the defense, having scored five assists in six games, while Dean has four assists, good for a tie for third on the team in scoring.
The Spartans sport one of the top goaltenders in the country in sophomore Jake Hildebrand. While he has not started the season as strongly as he finished last year, he is still an excellent netminder.
If there is a weakness for the Spartans, it is their tall, yet relatively immobile blueline corps. Six of the Spartans’ eight defensemen are between 6-1 and 6-2. However, they might be had if the Huskies’ forwards get to them early and often.
“If you want to call it a weakness, it’s their defensemen because they are bigger and less mobile,” said Pearson. “They just want to sure they defend and get it out. We’ll have to establish a forecheck and some presence and force them to have to play in their own zone, even more so than we did against Michigan.”
Both nights’ games are slated to start at 7:00 p.m.