The Michigan Tech Huskies’ (0-1-0) first full weekend of games will take place in Duluth, Minn. at the Ice Breaker Tournament. Friday night, they play the opening game against Union College (0-1-0) with Minnesota (0-0-0) facing Minnesota Duluth (0-0-0) in the late game. Last year this would have been one of the most exciting tournaments of the year, and while it still may be, you can reasonably argue that all of these teams will take a step backwards.
Let’s quickly look at each of MTU’s potential opponents, starting with Friday’s foe, the Union Dutchmen.
The last time many Michigan Tech fans saw Union, they were getting demolished in the first round by Penn State. These Dutchmen will not be that same team that earned a 2-seed in last year’s NCAA tournament with the departure of four of their most important players. The nation’s leading scorer, Mike Vecchione, graduated and the nation’s 4th-highest scorer, Spencer Foo, graduated a year early. Both were Hobey Baker finalists and Vecchione was in the final three for the award. A combined 125 points from just those two cannot be replaced easily.
Union also lost senior goaltender Alex Akelloropoulos (much the excitement of all play-by-play announcers) who had a .916 SV%. Their best defensemen, Jeff Taylor, also graduated which left them with yet another hole to fill.
So who’s left? Well, the Dutchmen had the nation’s number-four offense and it wasn’t all on the backs of their Hobey finalists. Keep an eye on senior forward Brett Supinski and junior forward Sebastian Vidmar. They combined for 77 points last year and will need to be even better than that for Union to find the same success.
Junior goaltender Jake Kupsky was solid in their season opening loss to uber-talented Boston University, holding the Terriers to two goals on 41 shots. He played in nine games last season and was not great (.878 SV%, 3.97 GAA) so him taking a huge step up is imperative.
This team likes to play fast and turn games into a track race which is quite contrary to the style of the Huskies. Friday should be an interesting battle of opposing styles. A low scoring game should play in favor of MTU, but the jury is still out on what re-tooled Union’s strengths really are.
The Gophers are my clear favorite to win this tournament. With a great deal of returning talent and one of the most electric freshmen in the country, they will be a popular pick to win the national title as well.
First, the bad news for Minnesota: They lost elite scoring in Justin Kloos and Vinni Lettieri along with stud defensemen Jake Bischoff. That is over 100 points gone with those three, but unlike many teams that lost a ton after last year, they brought in an extremely strong group.
The talk this year in the Twin Cities will be about Casey Mittelstadt, and rightly so. The freshman forward has elite skill and speed (just watch this video of him from their exhibition game) that will make Minnesota a scoring threat every time he touches the ice. If the Huskies face the Gophers on Saturday, he might be the best player they face all season.
Not to be forgotten is junior goaltender Eric Schierhorn, the three-year starter who continues to improve every season, and captain Tyler Sheehy who is a perfect complement to Mittelstadt and could end up in the Hobey Baker hunt by year’s end.
If you are looking for a reference point: few, if any, college hockey experts think that Wisconsin is a better team than Minnesota and expect the Gophers to win a deep and talented Big Ten. They would be a certain step up from the competition the Huskies saw in the Badgers last week.
The final team to preview is the NCAA finalist and host of the Ice Breaker tournament. It is not a stretch to suggest that the Bulldogs lost more talent from last season than any other team in the nation. Among graduates were leading scorer Alex Iafallo; 20-point scorers Dominic Toninato and Kyle Osterberg; and three of their top defensemen in Willie Raskob, Carson Soucy and Brenden Kotyk. To add to the losses, three players left early: Starting goalie Hunter Miska, top defenseman Neal Pionk, and 37-point scorer Adam Johnson. In total, they lost six of their top eight scorers, their top four defensemen, and their goaltender.
With all this turnover, it is extremely hard to predict what this team will be. Sure, they are in the top five of preseason polls but that is a nod to where they finished last year as much as it is about how good they are this season. I expect them to miss the tournament, although they should come close.
UMD will rely on returning talent like Joey Anderson and Karson Kuhlman to lead the offense. I expect an early-season time share between junior Nick Deery and sophomore Hunter Shepard until one of the goalies takes charge of the starting role.
Predicting a tournament like this is hard enough because it is so early in the season. It is infinitely harder because each of these teams have had unusual amounts of roster turnover. I think UMD will prove to be the nation’s most over-ranked team and Union is going to struggle scoring for quite a while as they adjust to life without their superstars.
Friday games: Michigan Tech defeats Union 3-1. Minnesota defeats UMD 5-2.
Saturday’s Games with all scenarios: Minnesota defeats Michigan Tech 5-1; Minnesota defeats Union 6-2; Michigan Tech defeats UMD 3-2; UMD defeats Union 4-1.