As we enter the new year, our Michigan Tech Huskies (10-7-0) (10-3-4, pairwise) enter into the second half of the season against two B1G opponents in what would normally be neutral site the Great Lakes Invitational games, but instead will be away and away against the University of Michigan (14-6-0) (14-4-2, pairwise) and Michigan State University (10-7-1) (10-6-1-1, Pairwise).
A few notes before we start. First, we got an explanation regarding the format this year from Dr. Sanregret on last week’s episode of the Chasing MacNaughton Podcast. Per her explanation, the GLI switched over to this year’s showcase format due to the Little Caesars Arena hesitance due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Having the showcase at Michigan and Michigan State allows for more flexibility which makes sense. However, I would like to point out the lack of a Huskies Pep Band and the two-fold ticket prices ($30 for the game at Michigan and $25 at Michigan State) for half the games (GLI 2019 was ~$25 for all four games) is not a good look for the any of the host schools. We can hope that the B1G schools will at least split the revenue with Tech and/or Western so that they aren’t left in the dust. Finally, the lack of a televised broadcast is the final nail in the coffin to the everyday fan who is now forced to pay for a month of B1G+, of which neither Tech or Western will see any money from this service. Here’s to hoping that this is just a one year B1G take over of the GLI and that next year’s is a better experience for both fans and the smaller schools alike.
Now back to your previously scheduled preview…
GLI has always been a sore spot for Michigan; they typically lose a good number of players to the IIHF U20 World Juniors tournament and this year is no exception. First I’ll show you their top skaters this season and then the players who are lost to the tournament as of the writing of this piece.
Now the players playing in the world Juniors are:
It should be noted that Thomas Bordeleau and Jacob Truscott (1G, 7A, 8P in 19 Games) were also named, but only to the preliminary Team USA roster. They should be with Michigan come game time this Wednesday.
With the names given this means Michigan will be losing 97 points of production, or 42.5% of their total. This will no doubt be a big factor coming into the single game series with both Tech. With the loss of those top players, the Wolverines’ roster starts to look much more similar to our Huskies in terms of point totals as after Luke Hughes’ 18 points numbers start dropping off a cliff. The Wolverines are very top heavy both in terms of NHL 1st-round draft picks but also in scoring.
At Michigan State
The numbers are very much skewed in Tech’s favor. With the lead scorers for MSU being:
These numbers pale in comparison to their Wolverine rivals, but State does have one thing going for them in a good defense. The Spartans allow less scoring per game resulting in a similar playing fashion to our Huskies. This game is going to be a battle of the defenses, due Tech’s offensive struggles against good to great defensive teams. I would expect a similar game to the Notre Dame game, but with slightly more offense on the part of the Huskies. Otherwise, this should be a clean sweep of a game pending if Tech decides to show up.
Our Huskies find themselves in a place of reflection after being taken to overtime in game two against St. Thomas. What happened was quite frankly unacceptable from a Huskies team that has a fourth line that is better than St. Thomas’s first line. What was even more baffling was the coaching staff’s response to the whole endeavor. The Huskies would take a 2-0 lead after the first period and then the Tech bench would be thrown into a blender for the rest of the game. Whether you want to call it experimentation or trying to figure out what works nothing good came of it. Additionally, forward Nick Nardella didn’t see a second of ice time in the third period after expecting to take up a big role with Trenton Bliss out in game two. Luckily the Huskies did dress an extra forward but the damage was already done regarding line pairings and chemistry for that game.
This leaves a bigger question for the second half of the Huskies season: what is this coaching staff’s philosophy? We have heard it time and time again from Coach Shawhan that if you want to play you have to earn it. Well, what has a Nick Nardella (5 P in 11 Games) done over players like Logan Gaine (4 games played), Marcus Pedersen (0 games played), Alex Nordstrom (0 games played), or even a Tyrone Bronte who was Saturday’s extra skater? Now this isn’t a dig at Nardella. Personally, he has definitely had his bright moments this year, but more so the coaching staff. I also have to be honest and say that I do not have a chance to watch practices due to the nature of THG being volunteer-driven coverage and I work full time. As a result, we the fans have a hole in coverage/transparency as to why players are being dressed over others. What I would like as a fan and as a member of the media is a better explanation behind the choices that are made and we don’t seem to be getting that as of right now.
Needless to say, if we see a repeat of what we saw on Saturday again at any point this season’s second half the Huskies can kiss their at-large bid chances goodbye.
Keys to the Game
- Defense, Defense, and Defense. This is the biggest advantage the Huskies have over both teams. If all goes to plan, either B1G team will get a goal or maybe two at most with the Huskies north of three or four.
- Face offs. This has been a sore point for this Huskies team all year. They need to win face offs. Winning face offs leads to winning possession which leads to either clearing your zone or a scoring change in the offensive zone.
- Foot on the gas. The Huskies are in the second half of the season and should be in midseason form. As a result there should be no letting up from here on out. The rest of the games this season are for all the marbles.
The Huskies are my favorites to win both nights. Game two against Michigan State does feel like a trap game where if they aren’t sharp it will come to bite them. Michigan is by far the tougher of the two opponents, but have been declawed by the World Junior Championship. As a result I see the Huskies able to pull two wins out of this week. MTU wins 3-2, MTU wins 2-1.
Cover photo courtesy Michigan Tech Athletics.
How to Watch
This series’ games are available through Mix 93.5 for audio featuring Dirk Hembroff (free), and via B1G+ (paywall) for video. Game 1 against Michigan will be Wednesday at 7:00 EST, while game 2 against Michigan State will be Thursday at 5:00 EST.