Michigan Tech (5-6-2) begins their two-week trip to Alaska with a weekend series against Alaska Anchorage (1-7-2). Tech is coming off a split with Northern Michigan and definitely need a strong result in the 49th state to reestablish themselves near the top of the WCHA. UAA is returning home for the first time since October 20th, having gone 1-3-1 in that stretch.
Michigan Tech picked up a much-needed victory last Friday when they defeated NMU at home 4-1. They followed that victory up with a lackluster performance the next night, mustering only 19 shots while being shut out. They had a number of issues on Saturday, but going 0-5 on the powerplay was glaring considering how reliant they have been on scoring with the man advantage.
Packy Munson played well on Friday, earning the start Saturday as well. He lasted only until midway through the second period, when he was relieved by Devin Kero after the third goal against. Yet again, goaltending is a serious question mark entering the weekend. It would make sense for Kero to get a shot at the job in Alaska considering his strong play against Bowling Green. There is no easy decision here for Head Coach Joe Shawhan: he badly needs someone to take control of the job.
One of the major problems MTU is having is possessing the puck. Corsi For Percentage, a statistic that measures percent of shots taken vs. the opponent, is essentially a puck possession measure. The Huskies are in the bottom half of the country in CF%. They need to do a better job of controlling the pace (especially with their goaltending woes) so they can play the style that they want. Until they begin establishing game control, they will struggle to get above .500.
Fortunately for the Huskies, The UAA Seawolves are struggling even more. Their biggest issue is scoring – dead last in the country with only 1.97 goals per game. No one on the team has double digit points. Interestingly, they have yet to be shut out in a game, and gave North Dakota a serious run in the opening weekend when they took two games to overtime.
UAA’s biggest threat is senior forward Austin Azurdia. He scored only five goals in the previous two seasons combined but has already matched that total in ten games this year. He is on a three-game scoring streak, so if there is anyone to match up against it is likely him.
Once again, the Seawolves are going to ride goaltender Olivier Mantha. Now a senior, he has started all ten games with pretty solid results. He has a respectable 3.28 goals against average and a .909 save percentage, and considering the quality of the team in front of him, this is nothing to be upset about. He has the ability to steal games, as he showed when taking an elite team like UND to overtime twice.
Michigan Tech should be able to capitalize on their opponent’s anemic offense and suspect defense. MTU has often played down to the Seawolves’ level, tying each of the last three games, so they need a find a way to adjust to the long trip and weak opponent to come away with a strong result.
Keys to the Game
- Play the game they want to play. Like I said, the Huskies tend to play to their opponent’s level, especially UAA. They need to get away from that this weekend. If they establish possession and zone time, goals and wins should follow.
- Continue to improve the PK. They did allow two power play goals again last weekend, but the PK as a whole did seem slightly better. This trip to Alaska is their best chance to gain real confidence while down a man.
- Play with urgency. The best way to overcome playing down to a team’s level is to feel a sense of urgency. The Huskies are under .500 in the conference, which is putting them in peril of not hosting WCHA playoff series. Since their route to the national tournament is through the WCHA auto-bid, they need to pick up all six points this weekend to regain their hold near the top of the conference.
I trust that Coach Shawhan is going to get the boys ready and feeling urgent to get the points that they badly need. Most of this team remembers the disappointing results against UAA in the past and know that they cannot be complacent. I think the Huskies sweep the Seawolves handily, 6-2, 7-4.
Featured image credit Ryan Johnson.