So the 2018-19 season is finally upon us. Michigan Tech will host the defending national champions this Friday and Saturday night at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena. Minnesota Duluth enters the weekend 0-1-1 after two relatively disappointing games against their instate big brothers, Minnesota. Michigan Tech had their intrasquad scrimmage last weekend where Black defeated Gold 1-0. Senior Captain, Jake Jackson scored the only goal with assists from two freshmen, Alec Broetzman and Brian Halonen. These are big games for the conference and Michigan Tech as wins over the NCHC can have a huge impact on the pairwise rankings and help the WCHA get more at-large bids. After BGSU’s big win Tuesday night the WCHA is 5-5-0 with wins over Colorado College and Western Michigan.
Minnesota Duluth returns all of their top six defensemen and their goaltender from last year. As Bruce Ciskie pointed out via twitter earlier this offseason, UMD is the first defending champion to return that full compliment. Providence came the closest, losing only their goaltender to an earlier departure after the 2015 championship. You’d expect UMD to be tough to score on with that group returning, but through two games they’ve allowed 8 goals. What the Bulldogs did lose was a hefty chunk of their offensive core. Half of their top six scoring forwards graduated or moved on (Joey Anderson, Jared Thomas, and Karson Kuhlman). They do return their top two scorers though in junior Riley Tufte and senior Peter Krieger. Tufte led the team in goals and many expect him to be even better this season. Their leading scorer through the first two games is actually a freshman that was originally committed to Michigan Tech until Mel Pearson left for Michigan, Jackson Cates. He and his younger brother, Noah are both in their first season with UMD and both could be top-six type players from day one.
As I discussed during my season preview series, Michigan Tech returns a great group of players and has a freshman class that could grow to the be best the best group as a whole since I’ve started following the Huskies in the ’90s. Time will tell how this team shapes up but its difficult to analyze MTU’s side of this series without games to watch. The fact that the scrimmage ended 1-0 seems like a good sign that the defense and goaltending should be ready to go for the first game this Friday. Hopefully the situation has settled after all the confusion related to Packy Munson’s late addition and recent removal from the roster.
Keys to the Game
- Control the Puck. With the question marks on the back end, Michigan Tech should look to control the game by keeping the puck as much as possible. The more time they are pressing UMD, the less pressure placed on this young, inexperienced defense. That’s easier said than done and a bit obvious, but it feels really important to do at least early to get the team comfortable with actual game speed.
- Confidence in Goaltending. If UMD scores first and its a soft goal, it could be difficult for the team to play the way they should and not start overcompensating for feeling like they need to do more because of lack of confidence in whoever is between the pipes.
- Special Teams. These non-conference/early season match ups can sometimes be penalty filled as teams and referees both get comfortable with new emphasis and what will/won’t be a penalty. That puts extra pressure on special teams to be good on both sides. The young defense and goaltending could be challenged early and offend with shorthanded minutes and the new faces will likely get power play time. Will they step up to the challenge from day one?
The two teams seem relatively evenly matched but I give UMD the edge on day one with game experience last weekend. Michigan Tech rebounds with strength and high energy on Saturday and gets the split. UMD wins 4-2, MTU wins 3-1.
Photo credit Ryan Johnson.