The Huskies’ season ended on a sour note, losing four straight—all of them by a strange bounce or a mistake or two. After being swept at Bemidji State last weekend, Them Dogs are not headed to the WCHA final playoff rounds and have no chance to be selected for the NCAA tournament. Despite that negative ending, there are quite a few bright spots to look at for this past season, and that means it’s time for the Old Dog Awards for the 2020-21 season.
The James Brown Hardest Working Man in Hockey Award
Justin Misiak has won this honor two years in a row, and he hasn’t slowed down. This year, it’s time to spread the love a bit. Brian Halonen worked like a true Husky nearly every shift, playing like he just couldn’t wait to get hooked up to the sled and pull. Halonen was also third on the team in overall scoring with 18 points, third in goals scored with ten, and racked up a +8 on the season. He’s very deserving of this award.
The Bob D’Alvise Scoring Award
D’Alvise notched an amazing 84 points in his senior year, a total that seems almost impossible the way the game is played today. For the second straight season, Trenton Bliss led the Huskies with 24 points. While that’s three less than last year, Bliss only played in 29 games this year due to the various scheduling blips that arose in this pandemic marred season. And, like last year, Alec Broetzman was right behind with 21 points. In a déjà vu moment, Broetzman again gets The Mike Zuke Goal Scorer’s Award with 13 goals to Bliss’s 12. In a year when the Huskies had trouble scoring, Bliss and Broetzman were consistently the most dangerous forwards on the ice for Tech. Bliss was also named to the All-WCHA Third Team.
The Chris Conner Pound-For-Pound Award
Chris Conner is a legend in the annals of Tech hockey and accomplished more in his four year career at MTU than most. He played in 151 games and scored 69 goals and 129 points—all on some very weak teams. For the third year in a row, Tyler Rockwell is my choice. Rockwell gives everything he’s got despite his small stature and was a stalwart on defense nearly every shift. He added 11 points this year, too, something he hasn’t done in the past.
The Bob Lorimer Gibraltar Award
Lorimer is one of the Huskies with his name on the Stanley Cup and was also a cornerstone on the Huskies’ national championship team in 1975. This was one of the harder choices I had to make this year, as Chris Lipe emerged in his second year as a star on defense. However, I have to pick Colin Swoyer for this award. Swoyer was Tech’s plus-minus leader with +11, no small feat on a team that was offensively challenged. He was also Tech’s sole Second Team All-WCHA representative, a well-deserved honor.
The How Did I End Up In Houghton Rookie of the Year Award
This is the easiest pick I had to make for this year’s awards. Arvid Caderoth arrived from the beautiful city of Gothenburg, Sweden (about halfway between Oslo, Norway and Copenhagen, Denmark) and made quite a splash. After playing junior hockey with the Frolunda Indians in the Swedish Elite system and setting up top NHL draft picks Lucas Raymond and Theodor Niederback for Frolunda, Caderoth had an outstanding first year with 16 assists and 2 goals. As he adjusted to the smaller ice surface in North America, his play continued to improve as the season went on. Caderoth was named to the WCHA’s All-Rookie Team for his play.
The John Scott I Actually Studied Award
The Huskies’ performance in the classroom was again top notch. 17 players were named to the WCHA All-Academic team. Rather than single out an individual, this one goes to the team as a whole.
The Al Karlander Senior Leadership Award
When the Old Dog was a student and freezing off my parts in Dee Stadium, Karlander was the best Husky on the ice. He delivered in big games and at pivotal moments. This award is for someone like that. For the second year in a row, Tech only had three seniors who played in most of the games. For my money (and I’m writing this column), Justin Misiak is the hands-down winner. He moved from wing to center this year and delivered a solid performance every night, and a great performance frequently.
The Billy Steele Penalty Killer Extraordinaire Award
Steele amazed me with his kamikaze approach to killing penalties on Tech’s great mid-70’s teams, and it’s fitting that my award is named for him. Them Dogs had an outstanding 90% PK rate (3rd in the nation) and adopted a more aggressive kill style compared to the past few seasons. One of the key players on the PK was Chris Lipe. His ability to maintain his position and to skate hard for long stretches when the Huskies could not get a clear was pivotal in the overall penalty killing effort.
The Tony Esposito Goaltending Award
This was the easiest choice of all. Blake Pietila, after playing in just a handful of games in his freshman year, emerged as one of the Huskies’ best players. On a team that was often challenged to score at the other end, Pietila posted incredible numbers: a 14-9 won/loss record, a goals-against average of 1.81, and an amazing save percentage of 0.934.
The John MacInnes Coaching Grade
This is one of the toughest evaluations I’ve done in my time as a columnist at Tech Hockey Guide. It was a wild season, with odd scheduling, periods of no hockey alternating with too many games in too few days. Players were added in the middle of the season. The Huskies faced no one outside of the WCHA, even if many of those games didn’t count in the league standings.
Nevertheless, there were a number of good things the coaching staff deserves credit for. Adding Jamie Phillips as a volunteer goalie coach was a great move, and Tech’s goaltending was better—and more stable—than it’s been since Joe Shawhan took over as the head man.
The ability of the team to shift gears during a game improved as well, and the Huskies no longer appeared to have a one-size-fits-all system and it made a difference. The penalty kill, as noted previously, was excellent, too, while the powerplay was better than average at a 22% success rate.
Another plus on the ledger was the Huskies’ consistent ability to win against weaker teams. In the past, that was always an adventure, but that wasn’t an issue this season. The final 17-12-1 record was largely built on 6 wins against Northern Michigan and sweeps of Ferris State and Alabama-Huntsville.
At the same time, Tech struggled to score goals against good teams. In fact, there were only able to muster a 2.6 goal per game average and were shut out twice and scored just one goal six times. That means that one in four times the Huskies couldn’t really expect to win. Worse, most of those games were against the best teams in the WCHA, which shows a sharp dividing line between the Tech program and their crucial foes, schools that are going to be in the same place in the new CCHA next year.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that the staff was performing quite well—and then things came crashing down in the final two weeks of play. In the final analysis, when it really counted, the Huskies underperformed to their talent. That’s a major negative and finishing out of the top four in the WCHA yet again is another.
Add it all up and my coaching grade is a C-minus. There’s a razor-thin difference between just ok and really good, and that’s where I think the 100th edition of Husky Hockey ended this year. Shawhan’s contract is up for renewal, and the players and systems that are in place are all his. While I doubt Tech will entertain a change in coaching, it’s not unfair to say that the next season will be a critical test of the current regime. With a new league, a more mature team, and a return to normal scheduling (we hope), this will be Shawhan’s opportunity to step forward and show that he’s been on the right track all along.
Another 5th or 6th place finish in the new CCHA, however, will be anything but.