What happened last weekend?
The No. 17 Michigan Tech Huskies played host to the No. 15 Michigan Wolverines for the first time since 1983. Things went from bad to worse for the visiting Wolverines, as the Huskies got four goals from four different scorers on Friday night in a 4-1 victory that easily could have been 7-1 considering the Huskies missed at least wide open nets. On Saturday, the Huskies led 1-0 after co-captain Tanner Kero scored short-handed. The Huskies scored four straight power play goals to power their way past the visitors, 6-2.
The Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves played host to the Lake Superior State Lakers. On Friday night, they jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the Lakers could get on the board. Freshman Olivier Mantha made 27 saves in the 3-2 victory. On Saturday, Mantha surrendered two goals on 12 shots in the opening period. Junior Michael Matyas replaced him, and the Seawolves tied the game over the game’s next 40 minutes. However, the Lakers earned their first win of the season when Bryce Schmitt scored his second goal of the night.
What does this sweep mean for Michigan Tech?
With the pair of victories, the Huskies moved to 6-0-0 on the season, which is their best start since about 1972-73. The fact that they were able to beat head coach Red Berenson’s team made all the sweeter for both head coach Mel Pearson, who served as an assistant under Berenson, and assistant coach Bill Muckalt, who played for Berenson.
“To have Red and the program come up to Houghton, you know, it has been, historically, a great rivalry,” said Muckalt. “Obviously for Coach Pearson and myself, [we have] a tremendous relationship with Red and that whole program. You want to put your best foot forward. I am really happy for our players.”
Muckalt is quick to offer praise for the veterans and the leadership they seem to be providing right now.
“It feels like the program has come a long ways,” said Muckalt. “I think we have that senior leadership culture and environment where the guys believe in each other and know that they can beat anybody if the system the way the coaches ask them.”
The staff is aware of what the wins mean to the community as well. It has felt for many like this team was a long time coming, and that fact is not lost by this leadership group.
“People are excited again,” said Muckalt. “People are stopping us and talking to us. They want to talk hockey and we’re getting emails now, and that is really good. That is really good for our players.”
This team seems very deep. Is it?
Friday night, the Huskies got an empty net goal from junior Malcolm Gould. On Saturday, he was one of two scratches. The player who replaced him? That would have been sophomore Tyler Heinonen, who scored on Saturday night.
“I would call it an advantage we haven’t had here in the past, per say,” said Muckalt. “It’s a credit to these kids and a credit to having more talent throughout our lineup. We have some hungry hockey players.”
All this depth has given the Huskies’ skaters plenty to think about in practice on a daily basis.
“We need to push each other in practice,” said Muckalt. “I know that Coach [Pearson] has talked about that. This creates a culture. They hold each other accountable.”
How are the seniors making such a big impact?
Three seniors are off to great starts to their 2014-15 campaign in Kero, co-captain Blake Pietila and David Johnstone. The trio have been playing important minutes for the Huskies since they were freshmen, and that experience is showing up now.
“I look at the puck movement,” said Muckalt. “They are really playing unselfish hockey. They are just making the play as soon as they can.”
The trio were instrumental in the wins over Michigan. Kero scored the key goal Saturday to get the Huskies’ offense going. Johnstone notched a pair of points each night. Finally, Pietila added three points on Saturday.
Scouting the Seawolves
The Seawolves have had a very odd and difficult schedule to start their season. After playing two tournaments in their home state in their first two weekends, they traveled to Maine for a pair of nonconference games. The following weekend, they returned home to face the Lakers. Now, this weekend, they travel to Houghton to face the Huskies. Through all that, the Seawolves have managed to put together a 4-2-2 record, going 1-1-0 in WCHA.
“First of all, I think Anchorage was very, very good last year,” said Muckalt. “They are very well-coached…You have to beat everybody if you want to be on top. That starts with Friday night.”
Sophomore defenseman Chase Van Allen leads the team in assists (7) and points (8). Seniors Austin Coldwell and Scott Allen each have a team-high three goals. Two of Allen’s tallies have come on the power play.
Mantha has been excellent in his rookie campaign, going 3-1-1 with a 2.22 goals against average and a 93.4% saves percentage.
Game times this weekend are 7:07 p.m. both Friday and Saturday nights at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.