What happened last weekend?
The Michigan Tech Huskies traveled to Big Rapids, Mich., to face off against last season’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular season champions, the No. 8 Ferris State Bulldogs. Friday night the two squads played to a 0-0 tie after 40 minutes. Co-captain Blake Pietila was credited with a goal just 19 seconds into the third for the win. On Saturday, the Huskies jumped ahead on the power play in the second period. The Bulldogs managed to tie the game. Senior David Johnstone scored the game-winner in the third period as the Huskies completed the sweep. The Huskies debuted at No. 17 this week in the USCHO.com Division I poll.
The then-No. 14 Michigan Wolverines traveled to face Massachusetts-Lowell on Friday night. The visitors struck twice in the first period, four times in the second, and twice more in the third en route to an 8-4 victory. Senior Zach Hyman netted a hat trick and added a pair of assists in the win. On Saturday night, they faced the Boston University Terriers. Freshman Zach Werenski got them on the board first, but they could not hold a 2-1 lead in third period, falling 3-2.
Didn’t those Ferris State games sound really physical?
Head coach Mel Pearson is one of many people around the game who describe the Robert L. Ewigleben Ice Arena as a place where things happen very fast. Naturally, in a rink such as that, bodies also tend to get around very fast, leading to a very physical game. Referees Derek Shepherd and Tony Czech had their hands full all weekend just trying to keep up with everything.
Both teams combined on Friday night for 34 minutes in penalties, including a batch late in the game from a pair of scrums near the Huskies’ net as the Bulldogs pushed for scoring chances late.
“I think you saw some of the frustration at the end of the game on Friday night,” said Pearson. “It wasn’t all them. It was some of us too. They play hard. They play on the edge.”
Saturday night’s affair was just as bad, with the teams combining for 35 minutes in penalties. The most important of those minutes came when Bulldogs’ forward Justin Buzzeo was whistled for five minutes for contact with the head. Johnstone’s game-winner was scored during that advantage.
Blake Pietila is off to a better start than last season, isn’t he?
The senior is off to a great start with three goals and four points through the team’s first four games. Last season, he needed 23 games to score his third goal and eight games to reach four points.
What is forgotten is that Pietila struggled at times with an injury last season that did not keep him out of the lineup, but it did hamper his style of play.
This year, he is fully healthy and scoring, but Pearson and his staff want more.
“He is off to a good start,” said Pearson. “But we can ask for more. There are some things in his game that he has to get better at. We challenge him every day to keep pushing.”
Where Pietila’s game has really shined so far this season is in the faceoff circle. After being nearly perfect against Lake Superior State, he won over 60% of the draws he took against the Bulldogs, which allowed the Huskies to start with the puck more often than not.
What is the deal with Jamie Phillips?
The junior from Caledonia, Ont., is off to a fantastic start to his first full season as the starter. He is 4-0-0 with a 1.25 goals against average and a 95.4% save percentage. Only two other goaltenders in the country, Mattias Dahlstrom of Northern Michigan and Colin Stevens of Union, have posted better numbers while playing in at least as many games as Phillips.
He ranks sixth in the country in goals against average and in save percentage. He was named the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week last week for his efforts.
So, what has changed? After all, it cannot just be that he is the starter, right? Pearson attributes Phillips’ success to the offseason hiring of Joe Shawhan as the new assistant coach.
“I think Jamie has had more coaching this month than he did all of last year,” said Pearson. “Joe is here every day, so Jamie gets it from him every day.”
Scouting the Wolverines
The No. 15 Wolverines are still searching for their identity after their first five games of the season. They are 2-3-0 in nonconference play thus far, having lost to Ferris State, New Hampshire, and Boston University. However, they also put up eight goals on the Redhawks, something that is not done very often.
“They are explosive,” said Pearson. “Michigan can hammer you. I think that is the biggest worry as a coach. If you give them too much space, they will finish.”
Hyman’s five-point night on Friday lifted him into a tie for the team lead in points with sophomore Alex Kile. Both skaters have three goals and seven points so far through five games.
A pair of freshmen have also made immediate impacts on the Wolverines. Forward Dylan Larkin, the first round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings, has one goal and six points. Werenski, who has two goals and six points, graduated early from high school, but he does not look out of place.
Game times this weekend are 7:07 p.m. both Friday and Saturday nights at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.