Two of the hottest teams in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association met over the weekend as the No. 5 Michigan Tech Huskies finished their 10-game homestand with a pair of games against the suddenly tough Bemidji State Beavers. The Beavers came in riding a four-game unbeaten streak with wins over Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State, and Bowling Green. The Huskies also celebrated Winter Carnival. They were rewarded with a little of that special magic that weekend has given them in the past as senior Riley Sweeney, who had two career goals coming in, struck twice en route to Most Valuable Player honors.
Friday night’s contest should have ended in a tie. There was very little that separated the two teams throughout the game, from shots to power plays to faceoffs. Also, there was little room on the ice for either team to start quick rushes up and down the rink.
The Huskies took an early lead 9:21 in as Sweeney took a pass from freshman Dylan Steman and beat Beavers goaltender Michael Bitzer with a wrist shot short-handed. The Huskies held the lead until early in the second when the Beavers tied it. Steman put the Huskies back on top 11:24 into the third when got a pass from David Johnstone and fired a shot that beat Bitzer cleanly. Co-captain Tanner Kero capped the scoring with an empty net goal.
“It was a hard-fought game,” said coach Mel Pearson. “Bemidji played like we thought they would. At times in the game, they took the play to us. They’re quick. They keep things simple.”
Pearson stressed Friday night that his team would need to be less cute on Saturday and have strong starts to each period. For the most part, the team responded with good starts in the first and third, but again struggled a bit with the pressure of the Beavers in the second.
The Huskies got a power play late in the first period and could not score on the advantage, but Sweeney struck before the Beavers’ skater could get back into the play at 18:20. Assistant captain Cliff Watson added an assist on the play. The Beavers tied the game with a power play marker in the second period. The game remained tied until Kero stuffed a rebound behind Bitzer at 13:59 of the third.
“It was similar to [Friday] night’s game,” said Pearson. “They outplayed us for the most part tonight, but I give credit to our guys, they found a way to win. We had to kill a penalty late in the game and winning teams find a way to do that.”
This week’s Stick Salute goes to Winter Carnival MVP, Riley Sweeney. Pearson always talks about how the seniors have to be the leaders, and this weekend, the Huskies got lots of very visible leadership from Sweeney with goals in each game. Sweeney is not known for his offensive prowess, scoring just two career goals coming into the weekend, but both goals this weekend came at key moments for the Huskies. He dedicated his goal on Friday to his deceased father. On Saturday, he proud to have contributed on the score sheet again.