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Huskies regroup, reshuffle for Omaha series

November 2, 2012
By Stephen Anderson - DMG Sports Writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON - If the Michigan Tech hockey team was at all overconfident after a solid split against then-No. 1 Minnesota, it certainly isn't now after getting swept at then-No. 5 Denver.

With another challenging Western Collegiate Hockey Association foe - though finally an unranked one in Nebraska-Omaha - coming to town this weekend, the Huskies are refocused.

"They're more dialed in. It's easier to get their attention after losses than wins," Tech coach Mel Pearson said. "Everyone has a tendency to relax a little bit after a win and everyone's telling you how good you are, and as you can see, every team is good, so you have to be ready to play every weekend.

"We have to be a lot better than we were last weekend. I thought there were a lot of things we did well, but the bottom line is we didn't win," Pearson added. "We've worked on a couple things this week that will help prepare us for the weekend."

Even though Tech actually has the nation's 15th best power play at 21.4 percent, the Huskies have spent quite a bit of time on it this week in practice after a 1-for-11 showing in Denver and in preparation for UNO's penalty kill, which has allowed just two goals on 25 opponent power plays.

Backchecking has also been a point of emphasis, and, though it's probably pretty obvious based on the 10 goals Tech allowed to DU, defensive zone coverage has been drilled extensively.

"We have to tighten up on the defensive end," said captain and senior defenseman Carl Nielsen. "A lot of it is just work ethic, backchecking, getting pucks out that need to, and playing Michigan Tech style of hockey. We kind of got away from that in Denver for whatever reason."

The Huskies will also be switching up some defensive pairings, including breaking up Nielsen and long-time partner and assistant captain Brad Stebner.

"Any time you play with a guy for a year like me and Stebs, it's weird going to play with another guy," Nielsen said. "Me and (assistant captain Steven Seigo) are coming along great in practice and we feed off each other. We'll be fine, it's just a learning process if anything."

Stebner, like he did last year with a plus-15, leads the team in plus/minus with a plus-four, and Nielsen is plus-two; but Seigo is minus-five, while his former partner Riley Sweeney is minus-six.

With defenseman Dan Sova out four to six weeks with a broken scaphoid bone in his left wrist, Sweeney will at least start tonight's game with Jimmy Davis, and Stebner with with Justin Fillion. Pearson emphasized the pairings besides Nielsen and Seigo are still quite flexbile.

Offensively Tech is mixing things up, too, after scoring only three goals last weekend. David Johnstone, who was second on the team with 11 goals last year, is still scoreless through six games, and he will join a line with freshmen Alex Petan and Jujhar Khaira. Ryan Furne will then join Jacob Johnstone - the two were together often last year - on a line with Chad Pietila.

Dennix Rix, whose five goals lead the team, will center C.J. Eick and Malcolm Gould.

"I don't really think I've changed anything, just trying to work hard and get pucks on net, and I've been pretty fortunate this year that they've been going in," said Rix, who had just six goals in 74 games before this year.

"Coming into Denver we knew it wasn't going to be easy, but we didn't come to play and didn't play our game. This weekend we're not going to make that mistake again," Rix added.

As for goaltending, senior Kevin Genoe will get his second start of the season after freshman Pheonix Copley struggled in two starts in Denver.

"It's been competitive. No question, (Copley) a good goalie. It's a good eye-opener, good lesson to push us each to be better. It's been good. It's allowed me step back and look at a few things," Genoe said.

"I trust my ability and I have to be a backbone for the team."

Tech's lineup will be a bit different than the last time the Huskies were in Houghton, but not nearly as different as Nebraska-Omaha, which makes the trip north this year without last year's two leading scorers, Terry Broadhurst and Jayson Megna. Junior forwards Brock Montpetit and co-captain Matt White have filled in admirably with seven and four points so far. UNO is outshooting opponents 35.67-20.67 shots on average.

The Mavericks have also received major offensive contributions from the blue line, with 19 points from defensemen, which is tied for third best in the country. While their offensive contributions are notable, UNO's 'D' is certainly stout on the back end and they feature plenty of size.

Senior Bryce Aneloski, one of UNO's eight NHL draft picks, will play in his 100th career game tonight, and he and 6-foot-8 Andrej Sustr (the tallest player in Division I hockey) each have five points this year.

"I like the match-up," Pearson said. "They're a good skating team up and down. They push the pace. They work extremely hard. I think that'll bring the best out of us. We had two real tight games last year, and we're going to have to outwork them."

The Mavs took three of four points in February in Houghton with a 3-3 tie followed by a 4-0 win; but they are coming off a WCHA series in which Bemidji State took three of four points from them in Omaha (3-3, 3-2).

UNO leads the all-time series against Tech 5-2-1, with the Huskies seeking their first win over the Mavs at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena (0-3-1).

Faceoff between Tech (2-4-0, 1-3-0 WCHA) and Nebraska-Omaha (2-3-1, 0-1-1 WCHA) is slated for 7:07 tonight and Saturday night.



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