While none of the Husky faithful were very happy about the way things turned out last weekend after getting swept by Minnesota-Duluth—least of all Coach Joe Shawhan, if his comments on his radio show this week are any indication—there’s a long season ahead and two games can’t make or break the entire year. That being said, the Old Dog would like to offer up an early evaluation of the way Tech’s first-year players performed in their opening NCAA-level encounter against an outstanding Minnesota-Duluth team.
There are really two ways to look at the combined freshman performances. The first one is the general impression that the Old Dog picked up watching the internet broadcast. There’s a second piece, though, and that can show up by looking at the specifics in the score sheet and see how the freshman stacked up “by the numbers.” Statistics never tell the whole story, but as fans, we’re not going to break down the video the way the coaching staff might. We’re just going to watch it and observed the general flow of the game. The detailed box score gives us some of the insight video breakdowns might reveal.
Let’s look at the forwards before considering what happened on the back end. Just watching down in Texas, I was very impressed with Brian Halonen. He used his size and skill to create several good chances on the offensive end, and he wasn’t afraid to assert himself physically. On Friday, he had one shot on goal and was even in plus/minus. On Saturday, he got off two shots on goal and, in a 5-2 loss, managed to finish with a +1 rating. He was 2-for-4 on face-offs Friday but 1-for-4 on Saturday, but just about all of Them Dogs were generally clobbered on draws in both games.
I also saw some good things from Trenton Bliss. He made a strong, powerful move that resulted in Tech’s only goal on Friday and was +1 on both nights. He did lose the only draw he had all weekend, but that’s not enough to judge anyone. Alec Broetzman also made a positive impression on the Old Dog. He set up a breakaway on Friday night, and was even on +/- Friday and +1 on Saturday. He also had an assist on Cooper Watson’s late goal in the second game.
Andrew Bellant scored a very nice goal on Saturday, but struggled at other times and ended up with a -2 rating in the only game he played in. One of those minuses came when he clearly got caught out of position on UMD’s first goal. On Friday, Tommy Parrottino wasn’t much of a factor in the Friday game, and that was much the same for TJ Polglaze on Saturday. They weren’t bad, though, but they didn’t stand out much, either.
Still—and this is a significant point—when you step back and consider all of this in a game against the defending NCAA champions who have tremendous talent and play together very well, none of the first year forwards looked like they were in over their head. They all acquitted themselves reasonably well.
On the defensive end, where it can be more difficult for a first-year player, both Colin Swoyer and Eric Gotz were effective on Friday. Swoyer showed signs of offensive abilities, with four shots on goal plus one blocked shot in the first game. He was also valuable in moving the puck out of Tech’s zone on Friday. Still, he took an ill-advised penalty of with a bit more than a minute to go, which killed Tech’s 6-on-5 pull-the-goalie try for a regulation tie. The second game was tougher for Swoyer, with no shots and a -2 rating, but he did have two blocked shots.
Gotz was just plain solid but not spectacular in both games. He was even in terms of +/- both nights, and added a blocked shot on Saturday. He did get off two shots on Friday night. While neither Gotz nor Swoyer managed a shot on goal on Saturday, Duluth’s offensive pressure and backchecking smothered Tech’s offensive sets as the Huskies only had two shots in total from the defense in the 5-2 loss, and one of those was Watson’s close-in-pressure goal with less than a minute to go.
So we saw a total of eight freshmen in the lineup in one series. That’s a large piece of the puzzle that the Huskies are putting together, and it was done against a top NCAA power. Anyone who wants to say that the freshmen class was the leak in the boat this past weekend just wasn’t watching the same two games that the Old Dog saw.
Tech had issues with special teams, with turnovers, and especially with face-offs. They also didn’t handle Duluth’s relentless forechecking very well, particularly on Saturday. However, it’s likely that UMD is going to place tremendous offensive pressure on almost everyone they play this season.
With a weekend off, followed by four straight road series, we are going to learn a lot more about the 2018-2019 Husky squad before Thanksgiving. At this point, the Old Dog is very encouraged, even excited about this year’s freshman class. Eight straight games away from the JMac will likely tell us if my enthusiasm is well placed.