HOUGHTON - Coach Mel Pearson has had a limited amount of time in the rink with his Michigan Tech Huskies, but tonight's exhibition against Canadian university Laurentian will be a coveted 60-minute lab session.
"That's what we use this game for, to see what we have, because we'll have some tough decisions to make for next week," Pearson said.
The date for NCAA hockey teams to have a full schedule of practices with coaches is actually today. Since Sept. 16, Pearson and his staff are permitted two hours of direct instruction per week. He compared it to going into a boxing match with one arm tied behind his back.
"You get frustrated as a coach a little bit because you want to do more," he said.
Just like any opener, there will much many initial questions to be answered. Two Pearson specifically mentioned were whether junior forward and Hancock native Tanner Kero could make the jump from being 'not just a good player, but a great player,' and the comeback attempts of seniors Ryan Furne and Jacob Johnstone from frustrating seasons in 2012-13.
Further, Pearson said he's anxious to observe goaltenders Pheonix Copley and Jamie Phillips.
"I'm always anxious to see the goalies. It's such a important part of the team, to see how they look in the net in a game situation."
Pearson has made an addition to his staff to address the goaltenders. Former Northern Michigan and professional netminder Dieter Kochan is reprising his role from 2008-10 as volunteer goalie coach.
"I'm thrilled we could add a guy like Dieter and have a guy like him in our backyard," Pearson said. "He's been around, he knows a lot about hockey and goaltending and a first-class guy, also."
In an exhibition, Tech can dress 24 players and Pearson will be using those players in several different combinations. He said he prefers to get newcomers in situations with experienced teammates, noting Brent Baltus will see time with sophomore Alex Petan and Kero Saturday.
Laurentian, based in Sudbury, Ont., is rebooting its hockey program this season under NHL alum Craig Duncanson this season after being without hockey since 1999.
Canadian Interuniversity Sport hockey players are typically older than their NCAA counterparts and Pearson expects the Voyageurs to give them a game.
"They're a little bit more battle-tested than we are, which is a good thing. You want to be pushed, and we will be," Pearson said.
Face-off tonight is at 7:07. The Huskies open the regular season next Friday at Minnesota Duluth, the first of five straight road games to start before the regular season home opener Oct. 26 against Northern Michigan.