After sweeping the Alaska Nanooks (2-10-2) the Michigan Tech Huskies (7-5-0) find themselves atop the WCHA standings going 6-0-0 in conference play. They continue their homestand this coming weekend against the Bemidji State Beavers (6-5-1). The Beavers are coming away from an impressive split with the #4 Minnesota State Mavericks (10-2-0) handing the Mavericks only their second loss of the season.
The Beavers have had a relatively challenging season so far with the notable major obstacles being #15 North Dakota (7-5-1), #1 St. Cloud State (11-1-0) and Minnesota State. This season has seen the Beavers transitioning to a new offensive core and finding a replacement for Rapid City Rush goaltender Michael Bitzer who held the starting role for the Beavers the previous four seasons. Bemidji has seemed to have split the duty between sophomores Henry Johnson (3-3-0, 1.51 GAA, .938 SV%) and Zach Driscoll (3-1-1, 1.81 GAA, .926 SV%). They have both held their own against tough opponents, only allowing more than three goals in one game this season. Both Johnson and Driscoll also have the advantage of playing behind a very experienced defensive core allowing only 26.25 shots per game resulting in a 2.08 goal per game average.
The biggest growing pains with this year’s Beavers team has been their offensive production only averaging 2.33 goals per game. This is most evident looking at their schedule this season in which this young core has only three or more goals in four games. In addition, with a 15.0% PP% (48th) and 79.5% PK% (39th) the Beavers special teams are nothing to write home about. The biggest bright sides to their special teams are that Coach Tom Serratore continues to field a Beaver team that doesn’t take many penalties. This series should see much cleaner play than what was seen last weekend against the Nanooks.
The Huskies are coming off an impressive homestand where they were able to contain the Nanooks to only three goals on 50 shots. Friday’s Copper Country Strong game saw a close 2-1 Huskies victory behind a great performance from senior goaltender Devin Kero netting his first victory of the season. Saturday’s game saw runaway victory where Tech scored seven goals on the back of junior Gavin Gould’s second collegiate hat trick. The Huskies seem to finally be putting things together giving opponents less to work with while the offensive is able to maintain the lead or provide the production to keep games close. Their special teams have been slowly improving as well seeing a more productive power play going 3/11 while only allowing two power play goals in seven attempts for the Nanooks.
Coach Shawhan gave an injury update on this week’s Joe Shawhan Hour regarding senior Jake Jackson, sophomore Mitch Meek and freshman Trenton Bliss. He expects Jackson to return around the beginning of the new year in time for GLI, Meek should be back within a couple weeks, and after the hard check which saw the wire cage break off his helmet, Bliss showed no signs of a concussion, but his return unknown at this point.
Keys to the Game
- Continued Pressure. This series is going to be a very big test on the Huskies offensive. This Bemidji team doesn’t allow much in the way of goals. Tech will have to either flex some offensive muscle scoring more than the Beaver’s 2.33 goals per game or try to take the lead and maintain it.
- Full Strength. The Beavers are only averaging four penalties while Tech is at 5.83 penalties per game on the season. The Huskies still have one of the worst penalty kills in all of college hockey at 73.6% (55th), if any special teams are involved it’s more likely than not going to be the Beavers on the power play with a good chance of scoring.
- Competitive Goaltending. Whoever Coach Shawhan pegs as the starter is going to have to compete with Coach Serratore’s choice. Juruisk, Kero, and Beydoun need to be up to the task especially as the Huskies still have a young defensive core patroling the blue line.
This series boils down to average goaltending and defense vs. above average goaltending and defense. However, each teams offense swings those in the opposite direction with Tech’s high octane offense vs. Bemidji’s relatively quiet one. To me, this looks like its going to be a goalie showdown and result in low scoring games. That being said, I think Tech will continue their WCHA dominance and sweep though it will be really close. MTU wins 2-1, MTU wins 1-0.
How to Watch
Both games are available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (Free), and via flohockey.tv for video (Paywall).
Featured Image courtesy of Bob Gilreath