With the season starting (hopefully) this Saturday at Lake Superior State, the Old Dog will wrap up his review of the 2020-21 Michigan Tech roster. In this final installment, we’ll review the goaltending and give you my overall appraisal of this year’s team.
Mark Sinclair has driven Tech fans crazy as the netminder for Alabama-Huntsville. While playing for the Chargers, he’s seen more rubber than a tire worker in Akron, and he’s stolen a couple of games from the Huskies in the process. After playing in just 5 games for Huntsville in his freshman season, Sinclair took over the primary goaltending role. Last season, the Chargers were a terrible team—they only won two games and tied six—but Sinclair still posted a 3.86 Goal Against Average (GAA) and had a save percentage of .896. If not for Sinclair, the Chargers may not have won or even tied a game.
The big question that Sinclair will have to answer is something that many goaltenders face. He’s excelled when playing for a bad team, seeing shot after shot, breakaways, powerplays, and constant action in his own end. Can he play well for a good team when the action is in the other end for long stretches? It’s a more difficult transition than most people realize, and it will be an important question mark for Tech this year.
Blake Pietila is Logan’s twin brother and shouldn’t be confused with his cousin Blake who was Tech’s captain for two years and is still playing in the American Hockey League. (Sometimes, the Pietila connection with the Huskies can get confusing—but we love it.) He saw limited action in his freshman year last season. At times he looked like a young star and not particularly good at other times, which isn’t uncommon for freshmen trying to crack the lineup anywhere in the NCAA. He posted solid numbers in the USHL for two years playing for Cedar Rapids and has the chops to be a solid netminder. But his lack of experience at the D1 level is a concern.
Cayden Bailey is a freshman and we discussed his flashy NAHL record in our review of this year’s freshmen. Expect to see Bailey at least once or twice in the pre-New Year’s games that Them Dogs will play as non-conference contests with WCHA foes. We should be able to gauge his potential for the coming season after seeing him play in some of those games.
The Old Dog’s Assessment
When Robbie Beydoun took the graduate transfer route to Wisconsin (where he’s 2-0 so far in the Badgers’ opening series against Notre Dame—but he was erratic when playing for Tech), it was clear that coach Joe Shawhan would be shopping for an inbound transfer to add an experienced keeper to the roster. There were rumors of a goalie from somewhere in the east who was ready to transfer, but when Alabama-Huntsville announced they were dropping hockey, it made the Charger roster immediately eligible to transfer without limitations, and Sinclair chose to move to Houghton. Subsequently, UAH has raised sufficient funds to play this year and has pledges for enough cash to rebuild their program—but Sinclair will be a Husky this year.
Pietila and Bailey could be good or even terrific in the future, but we’re not likely to see that in the coming season. And so, a great deal rests on Sinclair’s performance. If Sinclair plays the way he has in the past, Tech could keep their goals against down and be a serious contender in the WCHA’s final season.
If that doesn’t happen, or Sinclair is injured, it will all depend on two young men with a grand total of six games (only 1 complete game and no wins) of NCAA D1 experience.
Summing Up: The Coming Season
The Old Dog has gone through the entire Husky roster over the past month, and there’s a plenty to like about this year’s team. This may be the most overall talent and depth that Shawhan and his staff have had to work with during his tenure at Tech as the head man.
The preseason polls have pegged Tech for fourth (coaches’ poll) and fifth (media poll) in the WCHA. There’s no question that Minnesota State is the favorite. Tech is bunched with Bowling Green, Bemidji State, and Northern Michigan in the next tier, and everyone else below that. (Alaska-Anchorage has officially dropped hockey as a sport and there will only be 9 teams in the league this season.)
The Husky forwards are enormously strong, with plenty of firepower, a serious bench, and a demonstrated history of playing two-way hockey. The top four defensemen are also bona fide D1 players, but the risk of injury to those four guys is a concern.
With Sinclair in net, the Huskies can field a team every night that has the potential to win against any team. The nightmare scenario would be that injuries (or COVID-19) bite Sinclair or the top four on defense. Then Tech might be forced into playing a run-and-gun style that’s just hasn’t been a formula for success in the WCHA for several years.
It’s also possible, though, that those circumstances would give some of the freshmen a chance to step up and show what they have—and this an excellent incoming class.
My personal belief is that Tech is better than the two polls suggest. They don’t have many “big name” players or any top NHL draft picks on the roster (only freshman Carson Bantle is a draftee). And pre-season polls are notorious for putting too much credence in last season’s results. Last year, the Huskies were really starting to put things together at the Great Lakes Invitational, where they swept both Michigan State and Michigan to win what might become the final GLI championship.
And then the flu blew through the locker room, and Them Dogs were slammed hard. As the season wrapped, though, they recovered their momentum when the pandemic terminated the season after sweeping NMU in Marquette in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs.
On paper, this year’s squad is a good team, and perhaps a team on the verge of greatness. But the games aren’t played on paper and the unique format of this year’s schedule could lead to all kinds of surprises.
In the end, the Old Dog believes the Huskies can challenge Minnesota State for the top spot in the WCHA during the regular season. That will take a combination of both good fortune and several of the Huskies showing dramatic improvement over last season’s accomplishments. All of the pieces would have to fit together, but it’s not impossible that the MacNaughton Cup could end up back home in Houghton. That’s not the most likely outcome, but it’s more than just a dream this year.
Game time Saturday is 5:07 EST. That’s 4:07 Texas time, y’all…cold Two Hearted Ale from Kalamazoo will be in the fridge and Mrs. Dog will have Pinot Gris from Chateau Fontaine in Lake Leelanau ready, too.
Let’s just drop the puck Saturday and see what happens!
If you want to be as close to the game as you can get this year, tune in to the radio cast using the WKMG-93 FM link on Pasty.net or, for the video feed, buy a subscription at the Flo Hockey signup site. Then check out our THG Discord group–there’s a link on this page. Short of being in the arena (which may not happen for many people this year), participating on Discord and listening or watching live is as good as it gets. (If you are reading this on your phone, here’s the link )