From the moment the teams came out on the ice for introductions until the final whistle, the building was electric. Michigan Tech skated out to a mix of boos and cheers, followed by the pep band leading the MTU faithful in the fight song. The first period was back and forth with many great scoring chances for each team and very few whistles. The entire first stanza had just eight whistles and there were long stretches of 6+ minutes without any. The Huskies’ best chance in the period came on a partial break away by Gavin Gould, despite the chance one on one vs Atte Tolvanen, Gould was unable to bury his chance. The Wildcats had multiple chance to put in juicy rebounds left by Packy Munson, who did struggle a little with his rebound control last night. Thankfully the Huskies defense was first to the puck more often than not to clear away any threat. The first period ended with the shots slightly favoring NMU 9-7 and not one penalty called.
The second period was most active of the game with three penalties and 18 shots (9 for each team). Michigan Tech drew the first penalty with NMU’s Anthony Paskaruk taking a holding penalty down low. While the Huskies didn’t score during the man advantage, they did keep control after it ended and scored on a great second effort by Greyson Reitmeier. Mitch Meek shot the puck to the side of the net where Justin Misiak picked it up and tried to sneak it past Tolvanen from behind the goal line. The rebound came out front and Reitmeier drove the net hard and managed to get enough of the puck to chip it over Tolvanen. Despite two penalties on the Huskies later in the second frame, the Wildcats were unable to score and Michigan Tech did a great job of keeping the play outside of dangerous areas. One event that got the NMU fans riled up was when Munson clearly removed his helmet. The Wildcat fans wanted a penalty for delay of game and because the scoreboard only showed the overhead shot, fans were confused why it wasn’t a penalty. The truth was that something was wrong with his mask after making a save, it shifted on his face and he removed it to get a whistle so it could be fixed. The second ended with the Huskies hanging on to a 1-0 lead and Munson stopping all 18 shots he faced. Faceoffs were another story, with NMU dominating the game to this point, 21 to 10 including 17 of 21 in the second period alone.
The final 20 minutes was filled with some big hits, including a charging penalty on Phil Beaulieau of NMU. Upon review, it appears the penalty was more about the injury to Misiak who had his head down, than an actual charge. Beaulieau did skate a long way to check Misiak but he was actually standing stopped at the moment of impact. Thankfully Misiak was back on the ice after a quick trip to the locker room. Later in the third, Jake Jackson blocked a shot with his leg and was attempting to skate off for a change and got hit by a Wildcat defenseman while NMU controlled the puck in the Huskies’ zone. Jackson was eventually able to get back up and skate to the bench for the substitution. With just under two minutes left in the third period, Grant Potulny took his timeout and pulled Tolvanen. The Huskies did a great job of absorbing the pressure created by the extra attacker and eventually scored an empty net goal after puck spent a solid 10 seconds in the Wildcat’s end. Joel L’Esperance was the one that sealed the game with 47 seconds left. Even though the Huskies did go on to win, there wasn’t relief for MTU fans until the final whistle blew, especially after what transpired in Bemidji just 2 weeks prior.
With 4.8 seconds left, NMU won a faceoff and took a shot from the point which was deflected into the next past Munson. The MTU goaltender immediately signaled a high stick and the scorer for NMU didn’t even celebrate, knowing it was likely coming back. With 2.4 seconds left at the point, it wasn’t likely to matter either way. Eventually, the refs called no goal and the after one more drop of the puck, the Huskies were once again WCHA Tournament Champions. The third period saw just 8 total shots including MTU allowing just 3. Packy Munson stopped all 21 shots he faced and 93 of 96 since getting the nod last Saturday night in relief of the injured Devin Kero. It’s quite a redemption story for Munson as he received the most chances this year but other than early success in Icebreaker, never seemed to really put together two great efforts back to back until his these last three elimination games against Minnsota State and Northern Michigan.
The WCHA really has found a hit with this new format. A one-game winner take all final in the higher seed’s rink has now sold out completely both times and the atmosphere has been nothing short of spectacular. The NMU fans were mostly great throughout the game despite having very little to celebrate while the MTU pep band and Mitch’s Misfits brought their A-game. There were plenty of other MTU fans that found a way to get tickets to the game and they could consistently be heard on the broadcast. The fans who were unable to make that decided to pack the Mac with over 700 people to watch together on the jumbotron also deserved a shout out for showing just how much MTU supports this team, even from afar.
The NCAA selection show was at noon eastern. Michigan Tech was seeded 15th and placed in the East Regional vs the Big Ten champions, Notre Dame. They will play in Bridgeport, Connecticut at 3:00 PM Eastern on Friday, March 23. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2. The winner will face Providence or Clarkson on Saturday. Stay tuned as THG will try to coordinate with Alumni associations around the country to keep you informed of any watch parties.
Cover photo credit Travis Pierce.