Michigan Tech came out strong in the first period, flying around the ice and putting pressure on the Dutchmen right from the opening faceoff. It took under four minutes for the Huskies to get on the board as Mitch Meek scored his first collegiate goal by skating up the boards and putting a shot on goal from the edge of the faceoff circle. The weird angle shot caught Union’s goalie Jake Kupsky off guard to start the scoring.
Union got on board shortly thereafter with Anthony Rinaldi splitting the defenders on a partial breakaway, made one move and slid the puck in behind the outstretched pads of Packy Munson. The scoring slowed for awhile as both teams settled in. The Huskies were the first to get a power play opportunity just over the midway point of the first period after Ryan Walker was called for tripping. Dane Birks made the Dutchmen pay in the final seconds of the man-advantage as he received a pass from Mark Auk and one-timed it into the back of the net.
The best play of the game was probably the setup of Michigan Tech’s third goal. Alex Gillies had possession of the puck and saw Mark Auk wide open streaking up into the play and made a beautiful cross ice pass which Auk accepted and wristed over Kupsky’s glove as all he could do was look behind him as it went in. There was actually some discussion in the press box by NCHC officials if the goal should have happened as Union was called for too many men and the play should have been stopped before MTU got the chance to score that goal but after a short discussion on the ice, the goal stood and MTU had their second power play opportunity. That power play had some positive moments but didn’t result in a goal and the first period ended 3-1 in the Huskies favor. The Huskies were also ahead 12-10 on shots but struggled on faceoff winning just 5 of 15.
The second period was pretty much dominated by Union, with the Dutchmen outshooting the Huskies 15-5. Union drew two penalties to the Huskies one and the struggles with faceoffs improved but still favored Union, 14-10. Thankfully for Michigan Tech, despite the the flow of the period, the Huskies were the only team to score as L’Esperance muscled his way between two defenders creating a 2 on 1 and putting it away after a nice pass from Gavin Gould.
The third period started with a bang for Union as they scored twice in the first six minutes to pull within one. Head Coach Joe Shawhan challenged the second goal, as it appeared to be very close to offsides on the play. After review the goal stood and the Huskies had just taken a big punch in the gut. Once again L’Esperance stepped up and found the back of the net with under 10 minutes left in the third cleaning up a missed chance by Lucchini at the front of the net. Union pulled their goalie with two minutes left but an icing called against the Dutchmen put Kupsky back in the net and the Huskies were able to control the puck for awhile before he was able to return to the bench. Shortly there after the Huskies gained possession and Jake Jackson was able to use his speed to seal the game with an empty goal in the final minute of play.
Union finished the night with wins in many statistical categories including shots (38-20) and faceoffs (37-22). Despite those issues, the Huskies were able to prevail 6-3 and advance to the Icebreaker championship game, which time and opponent are yet to be determined. Joe Shawhan’s style of play definitely shined at times, but with the lead the Huskies built up, they also sat back at times and let Union have too much possession and space. Thankfully, Munson had a good day and the Huskies were able to finish most of their quality chances. The L’Esperance-Lucchini-Gould line really looks like something special so far. Alex Gillies also seems to be finding his footing and could really blossom during his senior year as his vision was spectacular on Auk’s goal and he also setup Mitch Meek to open up the scoring. The Huskies will have to find more scoring from their forwards tomorrow but overall, this was a great result for the Huskies.
Joel L’Esperance (1), Alex Gillies (2), and Mark Auk (3) are my three stars of the game. They were difference makers and really stood out multiple times throughout today’s victory. Congratulations to Joe Shawhan on his first win. It’s nice to see the Huskies step up and play this strong of a game after having to think about that loss against Wisconsin all week. Check back tomorrow as we will again have or discord chat following the game. It will be a little while yet before we know what time MTU plays tomorrow, as that’s all dependent on who wins the other semifinal game between Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth.
Best Play of the Game with Gillies setting up Mark Auk (check out the links above for gifs of other goals):