The Michigan Tech Huskies (11-9-5) return home after a week-long hiatus to face the Alaska Nanooks (9-13-2) in a two-game series. MTU last played in Las Vegas, finishing second when Arizona State surprised the college hockey world by winning the Ice Vegas Invitational. UAF split a home series with WCHA leader Minnesota State, demolishing the Mavericks on Friday 5-0 before losing the following night 5-1.
The Huskies have relied on contributions throughout the lineup, but recently they have been aided by the work of forwards Brent Baltus and Jake Jackson, and defenseman Mitch Reinke. All three had at least one point in Vegas, including a two-point night by Reinke in the win over Boston College. With other strong scoring threats like Gavin Gould and Jake Lucchini also more than capable of taking over a weekend, it appears that scoring depth is one of the biggest strengths of this team.
On the other end of the ice, the Huskies had a bit of a weird weekend. Devin Kero was given the reins in Vegas and performed well in the win over the Eagles, at least well enough to earn the start the following night. In the championship game, however, he allowed three goals on 18 shots before being removed in favor of Packy Munson early in the second period. Instinct suggests that Robbie Beydoun will retake the starting job for Friday’s game against Alaska, but yet again the goaltending situation is one to monitor.
Alaska is coming off their biggest win of the year and should be feeling good heading into a matchup with Michigan Tech. The Nanooks have no glaring weaknesses this year with both their offense and defense producing right in the middle of the pack nationwide. They sit 53rd in the Pairwise because of their horrendous schedule (third worst in the nation, according to KRACH). With so few tests against good teams, one would assume they would not come prepared to those sorts of games. On the contrary: Alaska took St. Cloud State to overtime in northern Minnesota, tied Bowling Green in Ohio, and split with both Northern Michigan and Minnesota State in Alaska. They will not be intimidated by the road atmosphere nor a talent disparity.
Alaska is led offensively by their best defensemen—seniors Zach Frye (6-12-18) and Justin Woods (8-8-16). Each has a pair of power play goals on a unit that is otherwise hopeless, sitting second worst in the country. Sophomore Kylar Hope is the best forward threat (8-8-16). This team lacks scoring depth, pretty much relying on the top of their lineup to get the job done.
Their goaltending has been a bit of a roller coaster, as seems to be customary in the WCHA this season. Right now, they are riding sophomore Anton Martinsson who holds a 3.00 goals against average and a .898 save percentage. He was not, however, good against Michigan Tech in November—Martinsson started the second game of the series and was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals. He was the star of the shutout win over MSU, but was promptly shelled the next night when he surrendered five goals in two periods before his night was mercifully ended. Based on the first weekend with Michigan Tech and that game last Saturday, I would not be surprised if partner Niko DellaMAggiore was handed the goaltending duties.
Keys to the Game
- Find ways to generate shots. The most interesting thing about Alaska’s numbers is how few shots they allow, especially for a relatively mediocre team. Frequently they prevent allowing many more than 30 shots, including just 26 to Minnesota State in UAF’s victory. Alaska may not have elite goaltending, but not generating scoring chances is the route to failure against the Nanooks.
- Trade penalties if need be. Normally I would never suggest this, but with Alaska having such a bad power play and Michigan Tech having a reasonably strong one, I could see this being a strategy in a tightly-contested game midway through the contest.
- Continue to establish dominance over the Nanooks. MTU has won 12 straight contests against UAF, holding them to one goal in five of those games. These have often been close games but Tech has found a way to win each time for nearly four years.
I think the week off will have done the Huskies some good after quite a bit of travel early in the month and equal amounts of disappointment. Now with the chance to pick up the easiest six points that are left on the WCHA table for Tech, they will come to play. I like MTU to sweep, 6-2, 3-1.
Featured image credit Bethlyn Cummings.