For the second time in the three-year tenure of head coach Mel Pearson, the Michigan Tech Huskies headed out on the road for the final weekend of the year with a home playoff spot still in reach. Two years ago, the Huskies could have finished as high as fourth or as low as eighth, depending on how they played at Colorado College. This season, the Huskies could have finished as high as third and as low as sixth, depending on a number of outcomes. While most of those factors went the Huskies’ way this weekend, the Huskies could only manage a loss and a tie at Minnesota State. In an interesting twist of events, the Saturday tie cost the Mavericks a tie for the WCHA regular season title.
Sophomore goaltender Pheonix Copley came ready to play from the drop of the puck Friday night. He was challenged early and often, making eight stops in the opening frame alone. The Huskies did earn a four-minute power play in the first, but only came away with three shots for the period. The game balanced better in the second period as the Huskies got the skating legs underneath them. However, despite firing 12 shots at Cole Huggins, the Huskies could not find any daylight behind him.
The game remained a scoreless tie until the 16:18 mark of the third when the Mavericks finally broke through. Copley would surrender one more just under two minutes later. Pearson pulled him shortly after the second goal, but the Mavericks found the empty net to seal the game. The Huskies did hold the vaunted Mavericks’ power play off the score sheet, holding them zero-for-five.
“As the game wore on, I thought we got stronger,” said Pearson. “I thought we played a good road game. We limited their scoring opportunities. We weren’t very good around the net tonight.”
Knowing that a win would still earn them a four-place finish, the Huskies jumped out to a much better start Saturday night. Sophomore Malcolm Gould fed sophomore C.J. Eick the puck in stride. Eick carried the puck deep before feeding it to freshman Shane Hanna for a goal 5:55 in. The Huskies would carry the majority of play throughout the second period as well, outshooting the Mavericks 10-3 in the period, but Huggins would not surrender a second goal.
The Huskies continued to hold onto the lead until the 7:09 mark of the third when the Mavericks found the back of the net. The Mavericks needed to win to catch the Ferris State Bulldogs, who had already won, so they flooded Copley with all kinds of pressure through the remainder of the third period and throughout the five-minute overtime session, but Copley held his ground to earn the 1-1 tie.
“We had to compete a lot harder than last night, and our team did tonight,” said Pearson. “I thought we showed our speed and skated much, much better. Disappointed in the fact that we did not get the two points, but I couldn’t be prouder of how our team played in a tough environment when there was a lot on the line for both teams.”
This week’s Stick Salute goes to the Huskies’ penalty kill. After several weeks of struggle down the home stretch, the Huskies’ penalty killers went into a hostile environment in the Verizon Wireless Center and kept the Mavericks to no goals on eight tries for the weekend. Much of the credit rests on the shoulders of Copley, who was excellent all weekend, but often the penalty kill is the work of several skaters as well as the goaltending, and that was the case again this weekend for the Huskies, who frustrated the Mavericks at every turn.