What happened last weekend?
Riding a four-game winning streak, the Michigan Tech Huskies appeared poised to continue that streak at home against the Alaska Nanooks. From the opening faceoff on Friday, however, it was the visitors who were the better team, as the Nanooks broke open a 1-1 game in the middle period with four goals to the Huskies’ one. They went on to win the first game 7-3. On Saturday, the Huskies started better, but one would not be able to tell by looking at the score sheet as the Nanooks scored the game’s first five goals before the Huskies got on the board. The road squad finished the game with a 7-2 victory.
The Northern Michigan Wildcats jumped out to a 2-0 lead just 8:34 into Friday night’s game. The lead was short-lived, however, as the Lake Superior State Lakers scored the next three goals to grab the lead. The Wildcats answered the third goal, but the Lakers outscored the hosts 2-1 over the game’s final 37:39 to grab a 5-3 win. On Saturday, the game was tied 1-1 in the second when Erik Higby struck twice to break the game open for the Wildcats, who went on to win, 5-1.
What the heck happened last weekend?
This is the question of the week after Huskies’ fans watched their team, which had come into the weekend having scored 24 goals in four games strike just five times in two games. More disconcerting was the fact that the team defense tied its season high in goals against, seven, in both games.
If there was a simple answer, head coach Mel Pearson and his staff would have had everything straightened out before Saturday night rolled around. On Friday night, the Nanooks appeared to be ready to push for the WCHA playoffs while the Huskies appeared to believe that they had already earned their spot.
“No question, you get fat,” said Pearson, when discussing the streak his team had been on. “You get fat and happy. I thought we played like we were fat and happy.”
Compounding the problem is the fact that the Huskies simply have not had a lot of experience playing in the position they were in this past weekend: the team expected to win.
“Let’s face it, we haven’t had many four-game winning streaks, probably since I’ve been here,” said Pearson. “You come off a game like Huntsville, as coaches you know what you are in for. Sometimes it is hard to translate that to the players.”
What is going on with the penalty kill?
As the Huskies’ power play has finally begun to get itself straightened out, the penalty kill has hit a snag. In the past three games, the PK, as it is often referred, has gone one-for-three, zero-for-two, and four-for-seven. Surrendering multiple goals to opposing power plays makes things very difficult moving forward for the Huskies.
On Friday night, things were especially taxing for the killers, as the Huskies surrendered goals on both Nanooks’ power plays, each in less than 30 seconds.
“I can’t tell you what the power play formation is,” said Pearson Friday night. “The first one is 13 seconds and the other one 18 seconds off the same type of situation.”
One of the most difficult things to quantify when discussing the penalty kill is how a team reacts to an opposing power play. Most power plays, the Huskies’ included, tend to involve little motion. Instead of cycling the puck and having all three forwards involved in the play, the puck is usually passed around the perimeter as the offense looks for holes in the defense.
The Nanooks employed a power play that both looked and felt different.
“I think it was just a combination of us being a little too aggressive and obviously they have some very good players,” said Pearson Saturday night. “I thought we were overaggressive and just really missing assignments. We just did not seem to recover.”
A deeper look at the Wildcats
After facing the Huskies back in October, the Wildcats moved themselves up the WCHA ladder thanks to some key victories over Alaska and Alabama-Huntsville. However, since Nov. 23, they have won just six times over their last 18 games. They now sit three points back of the Huskies in seventh in the WCHA with 21 points.
Senior Stephan Vigier leads the way with team-highs in goals (14), game-winning goals (4), power play goals (8), and points (24). Senior Erik Higby is the only other Wildcat in double digits in goals scored (10). Junior defenseman Mitch Jones has a team-high 17 assists and 20 points.
The Wildcats live and die by Mathias Dahlstrom in goal. The sophomore has a record of 11-14-2 record with a 2.58 goals against aver and three shutouts.
Friday night’s game will be at 7:07 p.m. at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena. Saturday’s game will also be at 7:07 p.m., but will take place at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.