Joe Shawhan and the Michigan Tech Huskies may not have gotten off to the best start last weekend in the Hall of Fame game, but they sure did show up this weekend in Duluth at the Icebreaker Tournament. The win on Friday, which we already covered, had some spectacular moments and the Huskies held a comfortable lead through most of the game. On Saturday, tournament hosts Minnesota-Duluth came out firing on all cylinders scoring on the first shift of the game. Riley Tufte put away a rebound at the top of the crease after Munson made a great effort to stop the initial shot following some confusion as to where the puck was behind the net. Most of the first ten minutes was controlled by the Bulldogs with UMD scoring their second goal on their sixth shot of the game, while the Huskies had yet to register a shot on goal.
Highlights from the Icebreaker Championship Game
The game all turned just after the midway point of the first period when UMD took two penalties in less than a minute and the Huskies were able to capitalize on both, first with a 5-on-3 goal as Mark Auk took a pass, faked the one-timer and wristed one past the goalie. The second goal came with less than ten seconds left on the second penalty as Ray Brice forced a turnover and immediately put a shot on net which snuck in past the near post. Just like that, the game was tied and the energy in the building was sucked out of all of those supporting the home team. Mitch’s Misfits continued to stay loud all night long but the UMD students never had much energy after that point.
The second period started with MTU and UMD trading power play goals in the first ten minutes, but the best play of the game was yet to come. Freshman forward Justin Misiak took a beautiful pass from Alex Smith for what ultimately was the game-winning goal just after the midway point of the game. The last 29 minutes were intense with MTU getting outshot heavily but the run of play wasn’t nearly as lopsided. The Huskies even managed to be relatively even in faceoffs.
One of the more interesting moments in the game happened with under five minutes left, as both UMD and MTU traded hits to the cheer of the crowd but after a whistle with 3:39 left, Coach Shawhan spoke with referee Brad Shepherd for a long time. As a reporter, it was one of the few things I wrote down to ask Shawhan about later. I crossed it out a just a few minutes later after being informed that MTU radio play-by-play man Dirk Hembroff thought the hit by UMD’s Dylan Samberg’s hit was with an awfully high elbow and after quite the delay, Samberg was given a five-minute major and game misconduct. The Bulldogs would be down to 4 skaters for the remainder of regulation. It was a huge call that set up the Huskies for the remainder of the game.
One last moment that left most MTU fans nervous was the Huskies getting called for icing in the final minute. The Bulldogs were finally able to pull their goaltender. Thankfully for everyone rooting for the black and gold, UMD was unable to manage much in those final seconds and the Huskies took home a trophy to add to the case. The icing on the cake was that former MTU/UMD Head Coach Mike Sertich was on hand to award the trophy to Michigan Tech’s captains.
The celebration after started with a team picture and ended with whole team skating over to the traveling fans (mostly Misfits) at the other end of the ice where the team, including Joe Shawhan, shared the moment with the fans that never stopped cheering in a usually “hostile” building for road teams.
A few things of note from the press box: While MTU definitely had a preferred top unit for both the power play and penalty kill, most of the skaters that dressed saw time on both. That wasn’t an accident, as Shawhan confirmed postgame:
We think it’s important to get diversity (on special teams). We want to make sure that guys can feel a part of something. Some guys will just never get in the game. (By playing those minutes) they were still engaged mentally.
Coach Shawhan also spoke about character. His new faces showed a lot of it this weekend between Munson, Ford and the freshmen. Shawhan wasn’t afraid to put new faces, including freshmen, out there in big spots. Misiak was on the ice in the final minute. All six defensemen saw time on the penalty kill. Unlike some of the other coaches at this tournament, Shawhan and his staff were not afraid to let his whole team play all night long in big and small moments to let them figure things out and see just what kind of players he had. By comparison, Casey Mittlestadt, one of the biggest new faces in college hockey this year, barely saw the ice in big moments for Minnesota over the weekend. This all plays into an interesting quote that Nate Wells managed to get out of Shawhan postgame:
“We don’t want robots, we want guys who are creative and think the game for themselves.”
All in all, it seems like MTU and Shawhan are well on their way to exceeding what many expected out of this team after the coaching change and all of the concerns previously discussed about the state of recruiting. Michigan Tech seems to have a great core of leaders both on and off the ice, not to mention a spectacular attitude to overcome an early two-goal deficit to a host team as good as the Bulldogs they faced on Saturday. Two of those leaders were announced as part of the All-Tournament team: forward Joel L’Esperance (two goals versus Union) and defenseman Mark Auk (two goals and two assists on the weekend) both made the cut with Auk earning tournament MVP.
— Michigan Tech Hockey (@mtuhky) October 8, 2017
Huskies celebrating with fans