In yesterday’s column, the Old Dog pawed through the Huskies’ early schedule and tried to make sense of the competition they will see before the holiday break. Today, we’ll sniff around the rest of the pre-holiday competition and see what these teams look like. Then, the Old Dog will offer his overall view of what shape Tech might be in when they head to Detroit for the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament, followed immediately by a trip to Phoenix to take on Arizona State. This segment of the schedule starts with a scenic tour of the UP.
November 15-16: At Lake Superior State
While the Lakers lost top scorer Diego Cuglietta to graduation, forward Max Humitz—who just killed Tech last year—will be back, as will goalie Mareks Mitens who also was part of LSSU’s domination of the Huskies last season. Coach Damien Whitten has finally arrived at the point where he has talent coming in every year and a balanced lineup that can play against anyone.
Outlook: This is another series where a road split would be a good result. It’s also a series that could end up in a sweep either way. Last year, it seemed that Whitten knew exactly how to stifle the Huskies in their own end. They did that by jumping all over Tech’s first breakout pass, and the Huskies didn’t know how to handle that gambit. If the cards fall that way again, it won’t be a happy weekend in the Soo.
November 22-23: Northern Michigan
The traditional home-and-home series with the Wildcats will fall during the week before Thanksgiving, and it will be yet another challenging WCHA series for the Huskies. The big news in Marquette is that ace goalie Atte Tolvanen has moved on and so has top scorer Troy Loggins. Two other Wildcats who seemed to save their best for the Huskies, Denver Pierce and Tony Bretzman, have also graduated. All WCHA defenseman Phil Beaulieu is back, though, and he will be joined by 10 freshmen.
One of the biggest unknowns for NMU is goaltending. They have two freshmen and one sophomore (who’s played very little sitting behind Tolvanen) and have brought in a Division III transfer from Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Connor Ryckman. Having that many keepers, and sorting out who will be playing, can be tricky.
Outlook: It might be possible for Tech to sweep this series, as NMU probably won’t be playing as well early in the season as they probably will after New Year’s Day. At the same time, this is a wild rivalry, and anything can happen. Skating to less than a split for the Huskies will be a very bitter pill to swallow.
November 29-30: At Alaska Fairbanks
Travelling during Thanksgiving week to end up about 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle is an adventure, and, at least for Tech, so is playing on the Olympic-sized ice at the Carlson Center. These teams will have some familiarity from their series in Houghton, but there’s not much more to say.
Outlook: Somehow, Tech’s managed to consistently win in Fairbanks even when they haven’t played well. They will unquestionably need a sweep if they hope to stay in the race for home ice in the WCHA.
December 6-7: Alaska-Anchorage
While things have been tough in Fairbanks, they may be worse in Anchorage. The Seawolves don’t return a single player who had 10 points last season and will be playing as many as 7 freshman on some nights. And they were dead last nationally in the Pairwise Rankings last year. They’ll probably resort to their cold-molasses style of play, rely on great goaltending, and try to hang around for a one goal win or perhaps pick up points in shootouts.
Outlook: Tech has way too much talent to let the Seawolves get a point. That said, for some reason, the Huskies always seem to struggle against Anchorage. This should be home sweep for Them Dogs, though.
December 13-14: Clarkson University
MTU is a lot like Clarkson University—a top notch technical school located in a remote and wintry area. Last season, the Golden Knights swept the Huskies in Potsdam, New York. But both games were low scoring affairs that could have gone either way. Clarkson coach Casey Jones, in his ninth year at Clarkson, has most of his NCAA tournament team back for this season. Jones and Joe Shawhan are buddies after both spent many years as assistants in the old CCHA.
The good news for Tech is that goalie Jake Kielly has graduated and takes his 1.91 goals against average and 0.929 save percentage (in 39 games—he played all but 48 minutes in the entire season) with him. They’ve added two transfer goalies (one from Robert Morris and the other from Nebraska Omaha) but lost two of their top four scorers, including Nico Sturm (14 goals, 31 assists) — but still have most of their offense back from last season. That includes Haralds Egle, who tallied 19 goals and 21 assists and will return for his senior year.
Outlook: This is anyone’s guess. Tech needs to negate Egle, who was a standout in Clarkson’s first round NCAA loss to Notre Dame last year. I think a split may be likely, but revenge for last year’s Golden Knights’ sweep in Potsdam would be a nice Christmas present for some good Huskies. And it would create some real momentum for the GLI and the Arizona trip.
This is a no-nonsense schedule, with WCHA games against all of the pre-season favorites. The six games against Fairbanks and Anchorage do provide a bit of relief. The 5 non-league games are all tough, too. If Them Dogs can get more than half of the 42 WCHA points possible, and take 3 of the non-league games, they may be well positioned for a strong second half of the season. But if things don’t turn out that way, it could be a bad sign. The Huskies have a lot of players on the roster, and young men who are losing and/or sitting in the press box can become malcontents, something we saw last year.
In an interview with Tim Rappleye of FloHockey, who picked the Huskies to finish second, coach Joe Shawhan said, “I think we’ll probably be picked the lowest in the preseason rankings since I’ve been here. But I think we have a good team.”
As I noted in my opening column this year, the first half of the season is critical for Team 99. We should know if Shawhan’s observation is true by the end of 2019. I’m hoping for the best but there may be more Two Hearted Ale drunk at the Old Dog’s house in Texas if things are not going well when we look at the Huskies’ record on December 15th.
An earlier version of this column incorrectly identified Clarkson as a college and not a university. And thanks to THG staffer Noah Lawrence for pointing out my error.