What happened last weekend?
The Michigan Tech Huskies traveled up to Anchorage, Alaska, looking for their first road win of the season. After a disappointing first period Friday night that saw the Seawolves take a 2-0 lead, the Huskies controlled much of the play over the final 40 minutes, but the only goal the visitors could muster was a power play goal from junior Tanner Kero as the Huskies fell, 3-1. On Saturday, the Huskies twice took one-goal leads on goals from senior Ryan Furne and Kero, but both times the Seawolves tied the game up as the squads skated to a 2-2 tie.
The Alaska Nanooks traveled to face the Ferris State Bulldogs in a pair of Western Collegiate Hockey Association matches. Friday, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 4-0 lead before Marcus Basara, Cody Kunyk, and Tyler Morley whittled the lead to one. An empty net goal put the game out of reach, 5-3. Saturday’s game saw the Bulldogs again jump out to an early lead, 3-0, before the Nanooks got on the board. Colton Parayko scored on the power play before Kunyk added a pair of tallies to even the game, 3-3. The Bulldogs struck once more to take the lead back for good.
Wasn’t the WCHA schedule supposed to make things easier?
Expectations were high coming into this season for head coach Mel Pearson and his staff. In two seasons under his tutelage, the Huskies had won a playoff series on the road, won the Great Lakes Invitational, and nearly won a second road playoff series in North Dakota. The Huskies’ roster was quickly becoming dotted with NHL draft picks, and everything seemed to be falling into place.
With the creation of two new hockey conferences in the Big Ten and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, it appeared as though the Huskies were primed for a top half finish. Through 14 games this season, the Huskies are just 4-8-2, 2-3-1 in WCHA play.
While the Huskies are playing WCHA games, the teams they have faced so far are Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State, and Alaska-Anchorage on the road. The Wildcats are always tough for the Huskies, and any trip to face the Seawolves involves several hours by plane and several time zone changes.
“I thought the weekend wasn’t what we had hoped for,” said Pearson, when discussing the Anchorage series. “I thought both games were hard-fought, [and] well-played.”
Just how deep are the Huskies?
The Huskies have dressed 25 players for games this season. Of those 25, all but four have scored at least one point. While this looks impressive on paper, looks can be deceiving. Only five have more than four points.
Part of the problem with assessing how deep the Huskies are is the injury saga of junior David Johnstone. Lost to an upper body injury after the first game of the season, Johnstone returned 14 days later. Over the next five games, he scored four points, helping give the Huskies more than one line that could score at any moment. Unfortunately, with him out of the lineup again, the team has lost a bit of that scoring depth.
Offensive or o-ffensive?
After posted four goals against Northern Michigan at home, the Huskies have reached three goals three times since. In five of the other eight games, the Huskies have scored two or less goals.
“We are playing well defensively,” said Pearson. “Now offense is a different story. Only scoring three goals over the weekend, it continues to be an area where we have to get better.”
While Furne has picked up his game, scoring twice in the last three games, the Huskies are looking for more from the likes of sophomore C.J. Eick and freshman Brent Baltus.
Baltus had been singled out before the season as one of the top incoming freshmen in the league, but has scored just two points while dressing for eight of the team’s 14 games. While he is not scoring, Pearson likes some of the other areas of Baltus’ game, which seem to be coming along.
“I thought Brent Baltus came into the lineup and did a real nice job for us,” said Pearson. “He provided some energy and he skated well on the big sheet.”
On a positive note, freshman Mike Neville has quietly put up seven points. He now has as many points as co-captain Blake Pietila.
A deeper look at the Nanooks
The Nanooks enter this weekend having lost four of their last five games and as one of two teams below the Huskies in the WCHA standings. With a record of 2-4-0 in WCHA play, the Nanooks sit just one point back of the Huskies.
Senior Cody Kunyk scored 11 goals last season. In 12 games thus far, he leads the Nanooks with nine this season. His 13 points are also tops on the team.
Three other Nanooks also have more goals than most Huskies have points. Sophomores Tyler Morley and Nolan Huysmans and freshman Marcus Basara all have five goals.
While the Nanooks have scored plenty of goals, they have had trouble keep the puck out of their own goal. Sophomore John Keeney and freshman Davis Jones have each played in six games. Neither has a goals against average under 2.94 or a saves percentage better than .893.
Both games start at 11:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday night.