After a two week COVID-induced layoff, the Huskies were able to get back on the ice this weekend and extend their winning streak to seven games. It took some doing, though, in this pandemic season.
First, just hours before the Huskies’ scheduled game with Lake Superior State, the Lakers were forced to postpone the series scheduled in Houghton due to—of course—positive COVID-19 tests. At the same time, Northern Michigan’s series in Alabama against Huntsville had also been canceled because some of the Chargers had tested positive.
The Huskies and the Wildcats then quickly agreed to a home-and-home non-conference series Saturday and Monday to fill the void. As I said several weeks ago, this season will be a make-it-up-as-you-go affair, and this was about as ad hoc as you can get short of plowing some of Lake Superior for an MTU-NMU game.
The Series Outcome
With both the Huskies and the Wildcats ready to play in Houghton Saturday night, Tech jumped out to a one goal lead early in the first period on a powerplay goal by Eric Gotz. Although the Huskies dominated that first period, NMU held on and slowly took control of play in the second period. Nevertheless, in the third period, Michigan Tech newcomer Tristan Ashbrook, who transferred from Rensselaer Polytechnic at the start of 2021, put one in the net and the Huskies had a 2-0 victory. Mark Sinclair was outstanding in goal, turning away 32 Wildcat shots and made it look almost effortless while racking up his second shutout of the season.
On Monday afternoon, the rematch in Marquette looked like a mirror image of Saturday night as NMU took a 1-0 lead on a powerplay goal. Northern dominated the first period just like Tech did Saturday, and then Them Dogs took control in the second and third. This time, the Huskies were able to finish better than NMU did in route to a 4-1 win.
Freshman Arvid Caderoth got his first career NCAA goal to make it 1-1 near the end of the first stanza, Tyler Rockwell potted a seeing-eye wrist shot from the point in the second, Alec Broetzman got one early in the third and Tyrell Buckley got his first college goal on an empty net in the final minute of the game. Blake Pietila, back from COVID land, stopped 32 of 33 NMU shots in goal. Pietila has posted a phenomenal 0.962 save percentage through 8 games this season.
Don’t Get Carried Away
Tech is also getting national attention with their win streak. They’ve moved up to 18th in the USCHO weekly poll and are rated 6th in the Pairwise Rankings. However, Pairwise doesn’t mean much this year because so few inter-conference games have been played. To address this, College Hockey News has instituted their “Power 16” ratings to compensate, 16 being the magic number of teams that will be (at least at this point) invited to the NCAA tournament. The Huskies hold the 16th slot in that rating, too.
That’s a big pause because MTU is about to enter the most concentrated sequence of games that the Huskies have ever played in their 100 year history—and this string of games are all on the road.
After returning to Houghton following Monday’s game in Marquette, Tech will head out to Bowling Green for a Friday-Saturday series in Ohio. Then, they’ll bus up to Big Rapids to face off with Ferris State. Next, they’ll go to Huntsville for a Friday-Saturday series in ‘Bama, and then stop again on the following Tuesday to finish up their two conference games against Ferris.
Then they’ll return home and again face the Bulldogs yet again at the JMac in a weekend series. Of course, all this assumes that all of the teams involved avoid a COVID shutdown during this concentrated string of games. A lot can go wrong with that many games in that short a time. All in all, it’s 9 games in 21 days and 6 in 11 days in the middle of that stretch.
Bowling Green Will Be Critical
The next two games against the Falcons—conference games, I must add—might be as important as any Tech will play this season. BGSU is 12-4-0, ranked second in the rump Pairwise, 8th in the USCHO poll, and their statistics are impressive. However, their schedule includes four games against Ferris State (no wins so far this year), four games against Atlantic Hockey foes, and two against NMU (2-8 this year). The do have two wins against Quinnipiac (10-5-3, rated 11th in the USCHO poll) and a 1-3 record in four games with Bemidji State.
The Old Dog watched at least some of all of the Falcons-Beavers games, and they were each one goal games. The pace was fast and play was intense from the first drop of the puck to the last second of play. The Huskies split against Bemidji what seems like ages ago back in mid-December. One game was a Husky nightmare, the other was a Husky near-masterpiece.
None of that really matters. What matters is who gets points in the WCHA standings next weekend. Right now, the Huskies have only 12 total league games on the schedule and have completed only two (against UAH). They might get two more if they can shoehorn in a makeup series with Lake State, but that might not happen unless some non-conference games get cancelled or LSSU comes to Houghton in the middle of the week sometime. Every point will matter in what might turn out to be the most intense Chase for the MacNaughton Cup that we’ve seen since 2015-16, when Tech and Minnesota State shared the WCHA crown.
Cats and Dogs
When the Wildcats and the Huskies play, anything can happen, even if Tech has had the best of it for the last few seasons. But there’s another Dog and Cat issue that matters, and this one is courtesy of Coach Joe Shawhan’s almost-famous explanation about offense and defense in hockey.
As Shawhan explains it, defense is like a faithful dog. It comes when you call it. Offense, on the other hand, is like a cat; it shows up when it wants to. So far this season, that’s described Them Dogs quite well.
After twelve games, the Huskies have a combined goals-against average of 1.58, and a penalty kill percentage of almost 93%. This is due not only to great play from the Husky blueliners but also the stellar goaltending of Pietila and Sinclair. Offensively they are averaging 2.41 goals and have a powerplay success rate of a bit less than 17%. Clearly, these are cat-and-dog averages.
Shawhan always adds that the objective is to convert your cat into a dog. While I’ll leave the predictions to the THG Chasing MacNaughton podcast team and our own seer Jonathan Zamaites, I’ll just say that the Old Dog surely hopes that the Tech offense comes over from the Dark (Cat) Side, stops pussy footing around and joins Us Dogs down in Ohio this week.