With the Huskies idle last week and the rest of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in action, there was a lot of movement in the conference standings. As the race for the MacNaughton Cup and playoff seeding moves into high gear, now is a good time to see where things sit and to discuss Michigan Tech’s prospects in that battle.
The Conference Standings
The CCHA website has a very detailed standings page, but for those of you that don’t want to leave THG’s website for any reason (we love you, we really do), here is what those standings look like:
Minnesota State, still rated the #1 team in the country, has a firm hold on the first slot and is the overwhelming favorite to win the MacNaughton Cup yet again. Bowling Green has crept into third place ahead of the Huskies after taking 5 of 6 points last week against St. Thomas. Bemidji State swept Lake Superior State last weekend to tighten their hold on second, while the Lakers and Northern Michigan round out the middle tier of the conference.
Tech has two games in hand on most of the teams, but a big four games in hand when compared to Minnesota State and Lake State. They also have two games against every team in the league left on the schedule. That’s an advantage for the Huskies, but only if they can convert most of those games into 3 point regulation wins.
And that’s what the Old Dog has been saying for some time — just win and things will work out. Lose and Tech will be on the road in the conference playoffs, out of the Pairwise-Ratings Percentage Index race, and once again on the outside looking in when the NCAA Tournament starts.
The Immediate Future
Them Dogs will travel to the Soo this weekend to face the Lakers. To be blunt, the Lakers looked bad last week in their two losses at Bemidji’s rink. For some reason though, LSSU seems to play some of their best hockey against the Huskies. Is it Damon Whitten’s tactics and game plan? Or does Tech somehow not take the Lakers seriously? One thing has been clear about LSSU this year and for the last couple of seasons — if they score the first goal of any game, they are very tough to beat. When they fall behind, they are far less successful.
You don’t need a degree from Tech to figure out what the Huskies have to do both nights.
The Rest of January
After the LSSU series, MTU will play their second home-and-home with Northern Michigan, a team that is performing very well lately despite their position in the CCHA standings. Then Bemidji State comes to Houghton for two games, and the Beavers just dominated Lake State last weekend.
18 conference points are at stake in three difficult series. If Tech gets less than 15, they could be scrambling to finish fourth and get the last home ice slot in the playoffs. Sure, there are other scenarios that could play out, but the Old Dog believes the Huskies need momentum heading into February.
My Crystal Ball Is Broken
More than any other Tech squad I can remember, this year’s team is the hardest to figure out. The Old Dog has groused about Them Dogs repeatedly, and to be totally honest, I just never seem to have a good feeling about their play. When they are pressing for offense and not turning the puck over in their own end, they look like a valid NCAA tournament team.
They just need to score 3 or more goals on a regular basis. The defense is generally solid and at times superb.
What seems to be missing is a sense of desperation, a fever pitch among the players and coaches that this is it — the opportunity to accomplish something special—and now is the time to lay it all on the line. During the 2017-2018 season, captain Brent Baltus reached deep inside and almost willed the Huskies into the NCAA tournament with his play down the stretch.
They have a chance to create a legacy that will live for as long as MTU plays hockey, a set of memories that these players will have for many years. And Husky Nation never forgets an NCAA tournament team.
Brian Halonen has been doing that all season, but his efforts haven’t been enough, as opponents have thrown everything they can at Halonen. That should leave opportunities for other Huskies, but no one has yet raised their game to take advantage of the double teams and physical play that Halonen has fought through.
Each series will be “the” series from here on out, or at least if and until the Huskies fade from contention. Let’s hope they don’t do that any time soon.