With the regular season now in the record books, it’s time once again (we can say that this year) for the annual Old Dog Awards. While this hasn’t been the most exciting or rewarding season for Husky Nation, there are still a number of individual accomplishments that are worth noting. And so, here are my choices for Team 98 in Husky History. So, by the power vested in me (by me) as the co-winner of the #1 MTU Fan In Texas for 2018-2019 season (I’m tied with Mrs. Dog for the second year in a row), here are my selections for the best of Them Dogs for the past campaign.
The James Brown Hardest Working Man in Hockey Award. Last year, this was an easy choice and Dylan Steman was the clear winner. This year, it’s been more difficult, as a number of Huskies laid it all on the line shift after shift. Steman is again on the short list for this award, as are Raymond Brice and TJ Polglaze. But, when you add it all up, Justin Misiak is my choice. Misiak was always buzzing, going into corners, getting back to defend, driving to the net and making his presence felt time and again. Add in his plus/minus of +2 (third on an offensively challenged team), and he’s my winner.
The Bob D’Alvise Scoring Award. D’Alvise was Tech’s leading scorer on the 1975 NCAA championship team. The statistics don’t lie, and senior Jake Lucchini’s 24 points make him a repeat winner. (For those who are interested, this is five fewer points than he notched last season). The Mike Zuke Goal Scorer’s Award goes to freshman Brian Halonen, who turned on the red light 12 times in the 33 games he played in. While it’s always a challenge to improve in the freshman-to-sophomore transition, Halonen was one of the few bright offensive lights during the past season, and his nose for the net has created a buzz in Husky Nation.
The Chris Conner Pound-For-Pound Award. Chris Conner, the dynamo from suburban Detroit, was a real force every time he stepped on the ice in a Husky sweater. He’s still playing in the AHL at age 35, and continues to demonstrate that size alone doesn’t decide your destiny on the ice. Gavin Gould was the winner last year, but in 2018-19, opponents made it a point of emphasis to prevent him from getting many good chances. This year, my winner is Tyler Rockwell, who’s just about the same size as Gould, and had an outstanding season. We’ll discuss Rockwell more in a minute.
The Bob Lorimer Gibraltar Award. Lorimer was the blueline anchor on the Huskies’ last national championship team at a time when defense was an afterthought for most college teams. Tyler Rockwell is the hands-down winner for this season. Rockwell, who only played a few games in his freshman year last season, was lackluster in the first few games this year. After a trip to Château de Bow-Wow, he returned to the lineup and played with determination, intelligence and poise. It’s not unfair to say that he showed the potential to become a shut-down defender in his two remaining years at Tech. His plus-minus rating of +6 was far and away the best on the team.
The How Did I End Up In Houghton Rookie of the Year Award. Landing in the Copper Country and adapting to college in general plus the trial by fire of DI hockey is never easy. The 2018-19 freshman class has the potential to be one of the great classes in Tech hockey history, but Brian Halonen is at the head of this class. Halonen recorded a +1 plus-minus rating, tied for second on the team in points with 21 points, and—as noted—was the leading goal scorer. Honorable mention goes to Trenton Bliss and Alec Broetzman who also delivered a taste of potential future brilliance.
The John Scott I Actually Studied Award. What I wrote last year holds again this year. Dylan Steman’s near perfect GPA in Mechanical Engineering is a huge accomplishment. Steman also deserved recognition for his outstanding performance as Tech’s face-off ace. Some nights, Steman was almost unbeatable in the circle. Without his performance at key moments in draws, there may have been some games that went the other way.
The Al Karlander Senior Leadership Award. Karlander led Tech to the Frozen Four in 1969 and also won two MacNaughton cups. In his three seasons in Houghton (freshmen weren’t eligible for varsity sports in that era) Tech compiled a 61-29-4 record. He also scored 31 goals in 32 games in his senior season. Picking a Karlander winner was another difficult choice with Lucchini and Steman the two contenders in a small senior class. When all is said and done, I’m choosing Jake Lucchini for this one, too. Both of these young men played most shifts against either the other team’s #1 or #2 line—and ended up with negative plus-minus totals. But Lucchini was one of Tech’s few offensive threats, and his team-leading point total is the deciding factor.
The Billy Steele Penalty Killer Extraordinaire Award. I just loved watching Steele kill penalties in the ‘70’s. His teammates all knew him as a crazy guy who wasn’t afraid to do whatever it took to eat penalty minutes. This year, TJ Polglaze is the winner. He went hard every second he was killing penalties, and showed plenty of potential to be even better in the future. His presence sagged a bit in the second half of the season, though. The history of college hockey is littered with freshmen who show something special, then blend into the woodwork for the rest of their career, so we’ll have to see how this year’s class plays out. But for his penalty killing this season, Polglaze earned a great deal of respect.
The Tony Esposito Goaltending Award. Just like last season, Joe Shawhan kept passing the goaltending baton to someone new until the last third of the season. Both Robbie Beydoun and Matt Jurusik played well at times, and at other times, not so well. Beydoun’s statistics are better, but Jurusik’s strong performances against the best teams in the WCHA swung the award his way. With both goalies returning next year, as well as the likely addition of Blake Pietila, goaltending should be one of Tech’s biggest strengths in 2019-2020.
The John MacInnes Coaching Grade. We’ve only got one staff, and they stand alone and must be judged as a group. So the Old Dog awards a grade for this award. With a team that was below .500 overall, that’s nothing to write home about. Still, the Huskies finished 13-12-3-1 in the WCHA, and earned the same number of league points as they did last year.
While the Huskies ran up their points before the holidays playing against the weaker teams in the WCHA, they lost close game after close game and were only 4-12-1-1 in the second half. They didn’t score a ton of goals even though they were 3rd in the country in shots. With 86 goals in 36 games—and 32 of those goals on the powerplay, Tech just never really could put the biscuit in the basket at even strength. If you don’t include the 6 goal explosion at Wisconsin and the 7 goal outburst against Bemidji, the Huskies only averaged 2.15 goals per game. To win with that level of offense requires a defense and goaltending that is hard to sustain against good teams.
Last year, I gave out a C+ grade and was forced to essentially eat my words when Them Dogs stormed to the WCHA playoff championship while playing every game on the road. This year, I’m going to hand out an “incomplete” at this point and wait and see what happens next. When the dust clears, the Old Dog will return to the question that more than a few fans are asking. Was the first year of the Shawhan era a remnant of Pearson’s legacy? Or is Shawhan building something that will ultimately be better? There are indications both ways, and that’s worth an entire commentary once the season is final. At that point, the Old Dog’s John MacInnes Coaching Grade will be final, too.
So, let’s put that behind for now, and look forward to the upcoming playoff series in Bowling Green. As Shawhan said on his radio show this week, his theme during the regular season is about improving day by day. But once the playoffs start, it’s all about performance. Tech matches up with the Falcons as well as any WCHA team ahead of them in the regular season standings, so it should be an interesting weekend in Ohio.