As the Huskies (18-14-3) go into the final weekend of February, they also go into the final week of the regular season. They face their biggest rivals in the Northern Michigan Wildcats (17-13-4). The Wildcats are coming off a split with the Lake Superior State Lakers (11-21-4), while the Huskies found themselves in a late season bye week.
Since their last meeting the Wildcats have gone through a rollercoaster ride of a season. After their losses to Tech they then lost to the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers (2-24-6) and looked to be down and out for the rest of the season. However, they managed to turn things around come New Year. They entered the 2020 calendar year with a win against Minnesota State (28-4-2) and would go on to be 6-1-2 in the month of January. Unfortunately, February wouldn’t be as successful. The Wildcats found themselves 2-5-0 going into the final week of play.
Part of their comeback has been a result of two transfer players that became eligible come the first of the year in Brandon Schultz (Jr. F, 8 pts) and AJ Vanderbeck (Fr. F, 9 pts). In addition, they have continued offensive production out of their top players through the month of January where they averaged 3.88 goals a game. The Wildcats’ goals per game then plummeted to 2.14 goals a game in February, were the outliers were two 5 goal games against weak Ferris State (7-24-2) and Lake Superior State teams. Removing those two games results in a horrendous 1 goal a game average.
When looking at goaltending, Nolan Kent (12-8-1, 2.74 GAA, .909 SV%) looks to have taken the starter job, though head coach Grant Potulny looks to have a very short leash on him. Both Kent and his back up John Hawthorne (5-5-3, 3.10 GAA, .882 SV%) have been pulled for one another four out of the seven games played in February. What this sums up to mean is that there is a good chance that Tech can chase out the net minder early in the game. To the dismay of Coach Potulny, this tactic didn’t work so far this month as every time he swapped goalies the Wildcats still lost.
The Huskies find themselves in a four-way race for 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th place with Northern Michigan, Bowling Green (17-3-4), and Alaska (14-13-5). Given the current circumstances, the most likely outcome is Tech finishing in 5th or 6th. Bowling Green is playing Alabama-Huntsville and Alaska is playing Alaska-Anchorage (4-21-7). Odds are that Bowling Green and Alaska will tie with both teams getting sweeps. This could leave Tech with the ability to drag Northern down to as low as 6th with a sweep, though the stars would have to align for the Huskies to win home ice. While improbable, it is not impossible.
Keys to the Game
- Cold as Ice. This is going to be a very intense series. NMU must win at least one game to ensure a third place finish and Tech needs to sweep to have any chance at home ice. Tech needs to not take stupid penalties but be able to weather the storm of players like Hank Sorenen and Griffin Loughran, who lead the NCAA in PIMs with 99 and 83 respectively.
- Defense. This series is where Joe’s defensive style is going to shine. NMU’s general game plan is to just out score their opponents whether it be a 6-5 win or a 1-0 win. If the Huskies can keep the Wildcats under two goals, their chances of taking a win are very good as the Wildcats have only won two games this season while only scoring two goals. If the game starts to look boring while the Huskies are up, then they are doing their jobs.
- Settle in. The Huskies need to find their groove and stick to it. Regardless of the results of this weekend, there’s still hockey left to be played in the postseason. They need to put their heads down just push through. This team can win, and they have shown it several times this year. There is a clear path that leads to the NCAA tournament, it isn’t an easy path, but it exists and it is there for the taking. The Huskies have the talent and skill, but will they have the determination?
Given the states of both teams over the month of February, the Huskies look to be the favorites. I think they can contain the Wildcats to under two goals, but the real question is can they score more than two? Again the opportunity is there, but will they take it? 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 at the Berry Events Center and game 2 will be Saturday at 6:07 EST at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena
*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. Flo Sports now has apps for iOS, Android (with Chromecast support), Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku.