Well ladies and gentlemen, as we approach the first weekend of March we have official made it. This will be the last regular season meeting for the Michigan Tech Huskies (17-8-1) before the WCHA post seasons starts. After sweeping the Wildcats (8-15-1), they will be on the road to play the Minnesota State Mavericks (16-3-1).
The Mavericks are coming off of their forth MacNaughton Cup victory in a row. They split their last series with the Beavers (11-8-3) with both games going into over time. This season the Mavericks have continued to show why they are a perennial top 10 team in the country. They have beaten almost everyone they have faced this year with the exception of two teams in Bemidji State, who managed to go 2-3-1 this season, and the other is our own Michigan Tech Huskies. The Mavericks have beaten every other team they have faced.
The thing about this series is that in recent history, it always seemingly boils down to whether or not Tech can beat Mankato. Before last season’s cancelation, I wrote a an unpublished preview of whether or not the Huskies will beat the Mavericks in a three game set semifinal. That was written almost a year ago now and is made up of 1400 words. The funny thing is here we are a year later and a lot of the circumstances previously mentioned still applies. The Mavericks most likely have an at-large bid already secured for the national tournament. The Huskies will most likely have to win the WCHA tournament (or go deep) depending on how the NCAA wants to pick teams that qualify this year.
However, the single biggest difference is how much closer these two teams are from last year to this year. Don’t just take my word for it, I’ll show you.
Going into the weekend, this will be the best shot the Huskies have in the past two years two years to win a game, if not sweep the Mavericks. Comparing our rosters, we get a similar picture.
It should be noted that the point distribution does fall faster for the Huskies as we move down the roster. However, I don’t think this is as much as showing how bad the Huskies are, but how great the Mavericks depth is. Looking in net, next we see:
This table just proves how good Blake Pietila has become this season after going 0-3 last season. He is in the same league as Dryden McKay, who is currently going for the NCAA record in shutouts currently held by some guy named Ryan Miller, you may have heard of him.
Our Michigan Tech goalie is putting up similar stats while playing behind a forward core and blue line that just isn’t as good as Head Coach Mike Hastings’ squad, and that is just fact. The Mavericks have one of, if not the best, defense in the country.
Don’t let that statement bring all doom and gloom with it, the Huskies have still managed to beat them once this year and given the teams current conditioning and NHL-like schedule as of late, the a players are as ready as they are ever gonna be.
Keys to the Game
- Four Line game. The biggest difference that is going to show this series is depth. The Huskies have been seeing great results up and down the line up as of late, but this weekend will be key to see if it’s the real deal.
- Special Teams. It just would be a hockey preview if I were to not mention this. Both teams are pretty evenly matched (see the above table for reference), Tech has the better PK while Mankato has the better PP. Let the games begin.
- Leave it all on the ice. This might just as well count as a play off series for the Huskies. They have worked hard this season under less than ideal conditions. This is one of the best Huskies rosters in recent history, let’s show the Mavericks why.
Asking the Huskies to sweep is tough, can they do it? Yes, absolutely. I would say compared to their chances over the past 4 years this roster is probably the best to do just that. I am not asking that though, what I was to see is a split with each game being close and that is what I am predicting. MTU wins 3-2, Mankato wins 4-2.
How to Watch
Both games are available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (free), via flohockey.tv* (paywall) for video. Game 1 will be Friday at 8:07 Est and game 2 will be Saturday at 7:07 Est.