The Michigan Tech Huskies (3-1-1) finally get to play games in the comfort of their own home when Alabama-Huntsville (0-2-0) visits Houghton this weekend. MTU is coming off a solid weekend against Lake State, winning once and tying the other with a victory in the shootout. Anytime they can go on the road and come away with five of six conference points no one should be too upset. UAH went to South Bend last week and was swept by Notre Dame, but it was not total domination by the Irish. The Chargers led Friday night 3-2 late into the second period and largely looked like the better team for much of the game. Over the last four periods of the weekend they were outscored 6-0, but they certainly looked respectable against one of the nation’s best. They should not be taken lightly.
The Huskies have found offense much easier than last year, averaging over four goals per game to start this season. The stars of the team have been really good in the first five games. Gavin Gould and Joel L’Esperance each have three goals, Mark Auk leads the team with seven points, and Jake Lucchini has five points with four assists. For MTU to make a deep run into the season, they needed their best players to step up and carry the load. So far, they have done just that.
Michigan Tech scored another power play goal this weekend, bringing their total to eight already this year. Special teams are always so important in the NCAA and the Huskies are currently second in the nation in PP% (38%). Last year they were below 20%, so keeping anywhere near this pace will be a genuine difference maker as the season goes on.
For as good as the Huskies have been so far, there are a few problems to note. First, like last year, they are getting consistently out-shot. They held a 72-49 shot advantage over LSSU last weekend, which is definitely an indicator of how much control they had in both games. They need to continue to do that in league play or they are going to lose games that they really should win.
The other issue is something I will bring up until I no longer have to: goaltending. I remain underwhelmed by Packy Munson, in part because I believe in his talent and think he has the ability to be an elite goalie in the WCHA. I think he has been good enough to keep the starting job and playing every night, but I was hoping he would dominate against the Lakers and we did not see that. Myself and others should be patient, however, because Head Coach Joe Shawhan is known to be a major reason why MTU has had such strong goaltending in recent year. We can trust that he can continue to find stardom in his goaltenders, even if it takes some time.
UAH does not match up especially well against the Huskies. They have only played two games so far this season so there is not much to go off of, but there are some things I noticed from their games last week.
First, their special teams are not good. They allowed three powerplay goals and went 1-10 when a man up last weekend. They have to turn both of those numbers around to have any chance against MTU.
The Chargers return last year’s starting goaltender Jordan Uhelski and have incoming freshman Mark Sinclair as well. They split the Notre Dame series and neither was great, both allowing four goals on less than forty shots. MTU may see both of them play again this weekend as Head Coach Mike Corbett tries to figure out who wants to win the job.
The biggest offensive threat will likely be Josh Kestner, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago. He is off to a solid start after picking up two points against the Irish. Another player to watch for is Tyler Poulson, who had two goals last weekend. He only had six points all of last year, so we will see if last week’s performance was a fluke or the beginning of a breakout season.
Keys to the Game
- Feed of the crowd. MacInnes Ice Arena will be rocking considering how late this home opener seems to be. Mitch’s Misfits and the Pep Band are ready to get going and want something to cheer for right away. If the Huskies get ahead early, the place will be electric.
- Understand the value of a hot start. Three seasons ago, the Huskies started the year with ten straight wins, which they turned into an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. With Minnesota State looming next week, winning five of their first seven games would be a fantastic lead-in to one of the biggest weekends in the WCHA this season.
- Stay healthy and free from suspension. There is a risk of looking ahead towards next weekend in Mankato, but I think this weekend being the first home series somewhat limits that risk. The bigger risk is players getting hurt or taking dumb penalties that handicaps them against the prohibitive favorite in the conference. They need two wins this weekend, yes, but they also need to be full strength against MSU.
I have a lot of confidence in this Michigan Tech team and certainly won’t be picking against them at home against a team nowhere near as good. Michigan Tech sweeps, 5-1, 4-2.