The Huskies (5-6-0) find themselves at a pivotal point in their season. After sweeping the Lake Superior State Lakers (4-10-0) they now face the Northern Michigan Wildcats (7-3-2). Northern is coming off of a split with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks (7-7-0).
This Northern Michigan team appears to be very good this season, however, there is an underlying reason as to why they find themselves at a 7-3-2 record. Looking at their opponents so far this season, we find that the Wildcats have had an easier schedule than our Huskies. The Wildcats have played a total of six teams which have a combined record of 20-37-9. Using the same metric for the six teams that Tech has played gives the Huskies a record of 41-27-3 with the outlier being LSSU with a 4-10-0 record. The Wildcats have simply had an easier schedule up to this point.
Adjusting our perspective to our rival, we find that they had eight seniors leave at the completion of the previous seasons. The bigger names include Atte Tolvanen (21-16-2 2.35 GAA, .917 SV%), Adam Rockwood (35 pts), Denver Pierce (20 pts), and Troy Loggins (40 pts). Those three forwards consisted of 34% of their overall points from last season. Luckily for the Wildcats, they have had their underclassmen take up the mantle. So far the Sophomore class led by Griffin Loughran (17 pts), Vincent de Mey (13 pts), and Ty Readman (10 pts) has been the bridge between last year and this year. These players, along with a few upperclassmen, have overcome the loss of their senior forward core and, thus far, has even exceeded them. Northern has managed a 28.1 (6th) PP% up until this point.
The Wildcats’ blue line looks to be healthy in terms of composition with a mix of upperclassmen and lowerclassmen. Though, they don’t appear to be as good in terms of scoring, with the team leaders being Philip Beaulieu (Sr. 9 pts) and Hank Sorensen (Fr. 8 pts). Looking to defensive numbers, we find that they aren’t a whole lot different from last year from a pure numbers standpoint. They have allowed 340 (45th) shots on goal, which is on track to match last year’s numbers of 1128 (T-36th) shots. Their penalty kill could be described as middle of the pack at 83.0% (T-25th), which is also on track to come close to last year’s 84.5% (15th).
Moving to the blue paint, we find the biggest setback of the season for the Wildcats in the loss of Tolvanen. The load has been split between Freshman John Hawthorne (4-2-2, 2.46 GAA, .907 SV%) and Sophomore Nolan Kent (3-1-0, 3.68 GAA, .880 SV%). Though these numbers look to be okay or average compared to the rest of the NCAA, there are a few caveats, and the biggest of which is playing experience of both players. The reason this is important is that last season Tolvanen played almost every minute of the season with Kent logging just 14 minutes.
The second point of interest applies to the entire team, but affect the interpretation of the goalies the most: the quality of the teams played. Below is a table of the teams the Wildcats have played in addition to Tech’s stats: There are a few trends that can be seen from this data. The first is that Tech will be Northern’s toughest opponent in terms of defensive ability. In both special teams and five on five play, Tech has allowed less shots and goals than the Wildcats. Against teams that come close to the Huskies stats (MSU, St. Cloud, & UAF), Northern has a record of 2-3-1. Moreover, even against opponents that should boost the Wildcats defensive numbers, they still average three goals against per game. To conclude, Hawthorne and Kent’s number should be better than they are due to how their opponents have been struggling so far this season. The Huskies will also be the Wildcat’s biggest offensive challenge with how little the Tech blue line and net minders give up.
As for our Huskies, the team is coming off of a very good yet semi-worrisome weekend. On Friday, Tech took an early lead and never looked back for a 4-2 victory. Game two saw a much different story, with the Lakers playing a much better game resulting in a close 2-1 victory. Over the weekend, we saw Bliss and Halonen light up the scoreboard with 3 and 2 goals, respectively. Ganie also saw his first goal of his collegiate career in game 1. Getting assists on the six goals are Swoyer (x2), Donohue (x2), Gotz (x2), Misiak, and Pietila.
Matt Jurusik was easily the number one star of the weekend. Jurusik kept Tech in Game 2, eventually stealing the win with 34 saves on 35 shots. Without his performance, the Huskies would have most likely left the Soo with a split instead of a sweep. Look for his pads to be tapped to start this coming weekend. The Huskies currently have a 14.6 (T- 43rd) PP% and 87.5 (12th) PK%.
Keys to the Game
- Unstoppable Force vs. Immovable Object. Northern is all offensive this year. They are relying on outscoring the opponent rather than preventing them from scoring. Tech has been taking the opposite approach, prioritizing defense and worrying about scoring later.
- Special Teams. The Wildcats have a very good power play so far this season. Tech’s penalty kill has been terrific so far this season, but there’s no need to see which is better. Please stay out of the box.
- 200’ x 100’ vs 200’ x 85’. Tech’s visit to the Berry will be the Huskies’ first foray onto an Olympic sheet of ice this season. They will need to be careful with the extra room as is it gives a true home ice advantage to Northern due to so few NCAA teams playing on this type of surface.
As you may have guessed by now, I personally don’t think Northern is all that good of a team. I personally think they shouldn’t be ranked or receiving votes. That bias aside, look for them to probably score in the neighborhood of 1-2 goals per game. The best litmus test would be their more recent series against the Nanooks. Against UAF, the Wildcats scored three of their four goals on the power play. Due to the Huskies’ strong defensive performance to this point, I am expecting that the Wildcats will score fewer power play goals against the Huskies. The Wildcats also tend to give up goals in the 1st and 2nd periods while scoring a majority of their goals later in the 3rd (see the St. Cloud, BU, and UAH series). This is both a gift and a curse for the Huskies as they tend to score early, but they also have a tendency to break down in the 2nd and 3rd periods (see MnSU, No Dak, and BGSU series).
The last big point of contention is special teams. Tech has been getting better regarding dumb penalties and will need to be very composed against their biggest rivals. All that said, I can see Tech coming away with at least one win, if not two, depending on how power plays and penalty kills go. MTU wins 3-2, MTU wins 3-2.
How to Watch
Both games are available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (free), and via flohockey.tv* (paywall) for video. Game 1 will be Friday at 7:07 Est in Houghton and game 2 will be Saturday at 6:07 Est in Marquette.
*Flohockey.tv is also the source of all games played in WCHA buildings this season so don’t be afraid to sign up for a month or the year for flohockey. Flo Sports now has apps for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.
CORRECTION (11-22-19 @1 pm est) – Fox TV 6 will also be broadcasting the series with Mark Evans and Dave Ellis providing play by play commentary.