After sweeping Alabama-Huntsville over the past weekend, Michigan Tech now sits at 11-5-1 and 3-2 in the truncated WCHA Chase for the MacNaughton Cup. This is a good time to review the team as a whole and see where they grade out because the final month will be frenetic.
Currently, there are 11 games left on the schedule and there’s also a possibility that two conference games against Lake Superior State may be squeezed in, too. That would mean 13 games in 25 days. That’s a real test of any team, even at the NHL level. It’ll be a hockey lover’s delight, particularly if Them Dogs play well.
So, how does the Old Dog see Team 100’s output so far? Let’s start with the goaltending.
No question, Blake Pietila has been the breakout story of the year for Tech, with a goals-against average of 1.76 and a save percentage of 0.939—and a spot on the Mike Richter Award watch list. Only two sub-par outings in Bowling Green have dimmed his light. Grade A.
Mark Sinclair has done well, but he’s suffered from poor goal support from the team. He also seems to have a had a bit of difficulty adjusting to playing behind solid defense, something he never saw in his three years at UAH. Overall, he’s done fine. Sinclair earns a B.
Freshman Cayden Bailey hasn’t found a chance to play yet. Let’s just hope he doesn’t get discouraged and head for the transfer portal, which might be very, very crowded after this season because the NCAA isn’t counting this year against any player’s eligibility. He’s still a highly promising player, and his grade must be Incomplete.
MTU has 19 (yes, 19) forwards on the roster. With 12 or 13 getting into each game, that forces quite a few players to watch from the press box or stay home on road trips. So, there are some tough calls to make for players who have not played in many games.
Trenton Bliss leads the Huskies upfront. He’s averaging a bit more than a point per game and has eight goals and 9 assists. Alec Broetzman, who started slowly, is not far behind with 17 points and is on a tear lately. Arvid Caderoth has been as good as promised, with a team leading 10 assists. And holiday transfer Tristan Ashbrook has been tremendous, scoring 5 goals in just 8 games after becoming a Husky in early January. (And he didn’t really get much ice time in the first two games as he worked his way into the lineup). All “A’s” for these guys.
In the next grouping, Brian Halonen is the top dog. He’s leads the team with 3 game winning goals and is always a threat to score. He just hasn’t had the touch or the breaks (hard to know which is which) to get an A, and that gives him a strong B+. So does Justin Misiak who is averaging 0.56 points per game and leads the team in hustle.
One notch lower are five forwards who either haven’t played in enough games or done enough offensively to rate higher. Tommy Parrottino wasn’t on fire the way he was in the second half of last season, but he still had five points in the first ten games this year. But he’s a COVID-19 casualty and hasn’t been in the lineup since January 3rd. Jake Crespi is making great strides this year as a sophomore and is beginning to show the talent everyone thought he had when he was recruited. Nick Nardella has found a spot in the lineup, and he’s producing with the ice time he’s getting, with 5 points in 9 games. This group all gets a solid B from the Old Dog.
Blais Richartz and Carson Bantle are both freshmen and are making an impact. Bantle has shown how strong he is on the puck while he’s also learning how much tougher it is to score at this new level. Still, he’s also the youngest guy on the team and was always in the lineup until he was injured last week at Ferris State. Richartz has played 13 games and has three assists, which isn’t bad for his typical fourth line or extra skater role. B- for both of these guys.
Parker Saretsky, Logan Ganie, and Greyson Reitmeier all get C’s. Saretsky started slowly and has picked up his play lately after being paired with Misiak and Bliss. Reitmeier was playing a more defensive role but hasn’t been in the lineup for a while and may also be a COVID sufferer (nothing’s confirmed of course). Ganie was hurt in the first series and has only worked his way back into the lineup lately. Finally, just because he’s been a buzz saw in his first four games after leaving juniors a few weeks ago, I’m going add Ryland Mosely to this group. I think he’s got a great future ahead at Tech, and I’m excited about seeing him the rest of this season.
It hurts to say this, but Logan Pietila is really struggling. With only 2 points in 17 games, he’s clearly suffering from the sophomore blues that are not uncommon in college hockey. I have to give him a “D” while at the same time I surely hope he’ll get back on track quickly, because the Huskies need all the offense they can get.
The remaining forwards all get an Incomplete. They’ve either not dressed for many games or haven’t gotten much ice time in the games they have dressed for. This includes TJ Polglaze, David Raisanen and Marcus Russell. It’s got to be tough when you can’t get in the lineup. Nevertheless, having these guys on the roster is a boon, both in the way they can fill out a challenging practice routine and helping everyone stay sharp. With the grueling schedule ahead, they may yet get more chances to shine.
This has been Tech’s brightest spot. Tyler Rockwell has been incredible in his own end and has added three goals from the point. His partner Chris Lipe is turning into a shutdown defender; his +6 is also superb. Eric Gotz also has three goals, all on the powerplay, and is averaging 0.71 points per game. And Colin Swoyer has been just as good as Gotz on both ends of the ice. They all deserve “A’s” and if anyone wanted to say “A+” for any of them, I would not argue.
Tyrell Buckley has been a great surprise this year and his +6 is as good as Lipe. At times, particularly when playing the best teams, Buckley has been stretched to his limit. He has NOT been overwhelmed and it’s not fair to say that he’s struggled, but you can see that he’s close to both of those descriptions at times. I’d give him a B+.
I also have to rank Brett Thorne just a bit lower with a solid B. Coming to the NCAA as a freshman, Thorne has played very well indeed and that’s no small feat for a freshman defenseman. He’s taken a few less-than-wise penalties, though, while his breakout passing has been as good as anyone. Thorne also looks just a wee bit tentative in the offense end. If he continues to improve in just a few areas, he’ll be right up at the top of my list—and I think that might be sooner than later.
Brendan Datema, Cooper Watson, and Jed Pietila all get Incompletes. Like the forwards who haven’t played much, they need to stay ready. There’s a lot that can happen—and it could happen shortly.
This is a tougher area to assess, but at this point, I think this is Joe Shawhan’s best year so far as the head man. We haven’t seen the goalie-roulette game yet, and his ability to attract real talent (Caderoth, Bantle, Thorne, Nardella, Sinclair, Ashbrook and Mosely come to mind) is having a major impact on the Huskies’ program.
It also seems like he’s delegating a bit more to Chris Brooks (in particular) as well as to Dallas Steward and Jamie Phillips. This is making a difference, at least in the Old Dog’s mind, and it’s a good sign for the future. Tech has played well against every team, including Minnesota State and Bemidji, with only an unpleasant series against Bowling Green as a markdown—and I’ve already said why I think that was a bit of an anomaly.
The only shortcoming was Shawhan’s screed against WCHA refereeing earlier in the season. He may have had a point, and part of his charm is his unvarnished Yooper character, yet that’s a trap that the most successful head coaches manage to avoid.
To sum up, I give the staff a B+.
We won’t have to wait long to see how all of this plays out. Just 25 days left in this absolutely crazy, strange, and unprecedented season.