The Michigan Tech Huskies (19-15-5) kept their season alive last weekend in Northern Minnesota and now must head to the southern part of the state to face the Minnesota State Mavericks (28-7-1). These two faced each other in Mankato in late October, their only meetings of the season. MSU dominated MTU, outscoring the Huskies 8-4 in a one-sided matchup. History favors the Mavs, winners of three of the last four and undefeated against the Huskies at home in the last 10 matchups.
Michigan Tech took advantage of power play opportunities last weekend, a product of what appeared to be serious hunger to win. While BSU fans (and television commentators) may credit Friday’s win to the referees, Tech earned the sweep by outworking the Beavers for the majority of the weekend. If MTU brings that same fiery desire to Mankato this weekend, this could be a closer battle than appears on paper.
To that end, MSU already knows they will be in the tournament: they are playing for a trophy and friendlier seeding. Tech is a team desperate to keep their season alive. While MSU showed no signs of lackadaisical play in their drubbing of Alaska last week, they will welcome a far better team to Verizon Wireless Center.
If you ignore the last two minutes of Saturday’s game, the Huskies received solid defensive play from both the skaters and goaltending. Junior Devin Kero continued to exhibit consistent, if not elite, play. That just may be good enough for a team whose offense is performing at a high level. After all, nine goals scored in a weekend on Michael Bitzer is not something often accomplished.
That offense is running off the backs of the usual suspects, especially Joel L’Esperance and Jake Lucchini, who combined for 11 points against BSU. Lucchini had the biggest goals of the weekend, scoring the first two goals of Tech’s comeback from down 3-1 to win 5-3. He then scored the decisive fourth goal that, without a strange last minute, was the effective game-winner. With these two rolling and just enough secondary scoring, any game is within reach.
On the other side of the ice is not only the league’s best team but one of the nation’s best teams and a serious threat to make a run to the Frozen Four. No discussion about Minnesota State can begin without mentioning C.J. Suess, their leading scorer and someone who is definitely in the Hobey Baker discussion. He is sixth in the nation in goals and eleventh in points and is a senior leader, a combination that will probably get him into the Hobey top ten.
The Mavericks also sport three other forwards who tally at least a point per game: Zeb Knutson, Marc Michaelis, and Jake Jaremko. Their top six forward depth is a big part of why they are in the hunt for a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament.
Offense is not their only strength, even though they lead the country in offense with 4.05 goals per game. Their defense allows only 2.05 goals, third best in the NCAA. MSU has two stars that buoy the defense.
Junior Daniel Brickley is well-known to be an elite defender and has continued to be so this year. He also produces offensively and on the power play, with 33 points in 36 games.
In net, they have an anchor in senior transfer from Boston University Conner LaCouvee. He has put up lavish numbers – .917 SV%, 1.75 GAA – and plays a strong and controlling game that works well for this stingy defense.
Keys to the Game
- Michigan Tech must generate shots. This is the same point we made about BSU and Bitzer last week and it stands to reason here too: LaCouvee rarely sees even 25 shots in a night. The last time he faced more than 23 was in a win on the road at St. Cloud State (the best team in the country both then and now) where he faced 28. If Tech can somehow get pucks to the net, LaCouvee will be seeing something he hasn’t seen much of all year.
- Tech has to stay out of the box like their life depends on it. This is pretty simple: MSU has the second-best power play in the country, scoring over 27% of the time. Couple that with a bad penalty kill and this weekend could easy turn lopsided. If Tech stays disciplined, however, MSU loses its greatest weapon. Lazy penalties will end the Huskies’ season.
- Continue to play confident and hungry. Last weekend we saw a team that had no fear of going into the barn of a rival who was clearly favored to win. The same thing will occur Friday night. Even though Minnesota State is much better than BSU, that kind of energy and self-belief channels the full potential of this Tech team, one that in the USCHO preseason poll was pegged only five spots lower.
I won’t mince words: this is a tough matchup for Tech against a team who could very well win the national championship. It would be silly to say myself or anyone else should expect the Huskies to win this series, but I do think they have the capability to make it closer than most people would think. After all, Minnesota State has a history of losing to lower-ranked teams as the top seed…
In the end, I’m picking the Mavericks to sweep, but if Tech can find a way to extend the weekend to Sunday, I think game 3 stays close enough to keep everyone on the edge of their seat. MSU wins, 4-1, 2-0.
Cover photo credit Will Sterrett.