With only two days off, the Michigan Tech Huskies (10-8-5) head to Nevada for the inaugural Ice Vegas Invitational. The Huskies played well in this week’s GLI, losing in the championship game to an underrated Bowling Green team that will make a run at a national tournament bid in the second half. The Huskies will face the Boston College Eagles (10-7-2) on Friday night and then face either Arizona State (4-12-4) or Northern Michigan (11-9-2) on Saturday. Let’s take a quick look at each of the teams in this tournament.
Amazingly, at least if you have followed this team all year, goaltending has been the strength of the team for the last few games. For the second straight year, a freshman goaltender has rescued a problematic netminding situation. This week, Robbie Beydoun was rewarded for his emergence by being named the WCHA goaltender of the month. This is well deserved, but also somewhat bittersweet: what if Beydoun had won that award in October instead of December? Where might this team and its record be? Hard not to wonder. If a few more bounces go Beydoun’s and the Huskies’ way, they might have left Detroit with a trophy.
Elsewhere, the absence of junior forward Jake Jackson was certainly felt on Tuesday night. He extended his point streak to nine games against Michigan State, but was sick and missed the championship game. His status is still uncertain for Vegas. The Huskies have a much better chance of winning this tournament if he is on the ice. MTU will need to see fellow junior forward Jake Lucchini build upon his two-goal weekend if they are going to cover for the potential loss of Jackson.
There is no ignoring the fact that this has been a down year for the Eagles. They sit 15th in the Pairwise thanks in large part to strength of schedule, but they do not have many impressive wins. They would love a strong showing in the Sin City to give them more breathing room as they try to squeak into the national tournament.
Their struggles this year have come down to an inability to score, no surprise since they lost their top five scorers. They average a little over two and a half goals per game which is in the bottom third of the country. Their leading scorers are a pair of sophomore forwards, Julius Mattila (5-10-15) and David Cotton (4-9-13). They do a relatively good job of spreading the wealth with eight players in double figures, although that lack of star power is affecting their special teams scoring. They have one of the worst power plays in the nation, scoring less than 15% of the time (nearly three percentage points lower than MTU’s PP). This is not one of those BC teams from last decade that could score at will: they are far more vulnerable as a result.
This team is in the hunt for an at-large bid to the tournament because of their defense and goaltending. The star of this team, at least entering the year, is sophomore Joe Woll. Woll is in Buffalo representing Team USA at the World Juniors Tournament, so he may or may not be back for this weekend. That may not be a good thing for the Huskies, however. Woll has been good, but not great this year. His save percentage is only .898, though the team’s defense is stout enough that he has a 2.90 goals against average. His counterpart, fellow sophomore Ryan Edquist has played as well as any goalie in the country in his limited action. In 6 games, Edquist has a .949 SV% and a 1.54 GAA, including a shutout of UConn this past week. I expect Edquist to face the Huskies on Friday night considering both the travel that Woll would need to go through to get to Vegas and the performance of Edquist in the previous game.
Northern Michigan is going through a renaissance in their first year under Head Coach Grant Potulny. Last weekend was one of their best of the year, going on the road to Mankato and splitting a series with Minnesota State. The Wildcats are 20th in the Pairwise but unranked in the polls, so a tournament win would go a long way to both their national tournament prospects and their reputation.
This team is led by senior forward Robbie Payne. His 16 goals are tied for first in the NCAA. He is especially dangerous on the power play, where he has scored six goals. Limiting him is going to vital to NMU’s opponents. Also keep an eye on junior Adam Rockwood, who has 16 assists, and sophomore Darien Craighead, who has 11 goals and 19 points.
Goaltending has also been strong for NMU. They use two junior goaltenders, but Atte Tolvanen has been much better than Mathias Israelsson. Tolvanen was discussed in our series preview from November, and he has continued to play well. He is absolutely capable of stealing games and I would expect to see him get the lion’s share of the playing time in 2018.
It is perfectly reasonable to view the Wildcats as the favorite to win this tournament, especially since they should have no problem winning their first game. Michigan Tech is very familiar with them, so if the Huskies get past Boston College they should expect a second straight tournament championship game featuring two WCHA teams.
The sport’s newest member is still trying to find a foothold in Division I hockey. The Sun Devils have almost no ability to score, with the third worst offense in the NCAA (1.95 goals per game). Only Yale has a worse power play percentage than ASU’s 9.2%.
Their best scoring threat is sophomore Tyler Busch, who has seven goals. Their goaltender, sophomore Joey Daccord, has played quite well. He has a respectable .908 save percentage. He has kept his team in some games against good teams, making 47 saves and earning a 1-1 tie against Colgate in October as well as holding offensive powerhouse Penn State to just three goals on 48 shots in November. Daccord can get into a rhythm and frustrate an opponent.
While ASU is unlikely to win a game against any of these teams, this is a great chance at some exposure and an opportunity to play some strong programs that they hope to emulate in time.
Like the GLI, this is a tournament with some strong teams but no one truly elite. The BC-MTU game should be fun and competitive, as should the championship game. Northern Michigan is the most complete team here, and I am worried about Tech if they do not have Jackson.
Friday: MTU and BC are similar teams that will probably be relying on their hot hand in net. I like MTU’s offense more, even without Jake Jackson. MTU wins, 3-2.
NMU should not struggle at all against Arizona State. NMU wins, 7-2.
Saturday: If I am correct about Friday’s predictions, then we will be seeing the third of at least five games between Tech and Northern. They split a pair of one-sided affairs in November, with each team winning easily at home. In this neutral site battle hundreds of miles from Michigan, I think it will be a close game. I favor NMU’s more consistent offense here. NMU wins, 4-3.
Regardless of who ASU plays, I think the Sun Devils will lose by a couple field goals. BC wins, 6-0.
Bonus picks: NMU beats BC, 5-2. MTU beats ASU, 8-3.
Featured Image courtesy of Ryan Johnson