HOUGHTON - The numbers are ugly. No doubt about it.
After enjoying one of the top power plays in the country last year, the Michigan Tech hockey team has slipped to No. 9 in the WCHA this season with a paltry 10-percent conversion rate.
As a result, they are scoring just 2.06 goals per game, nearly a full tally less than last season.
But after a sweep over Alaska-Fairbanks last weekend, and three goals scored with a man-advantage in the four-game trip to Alaska, there is a growing sense of optimism among the players that the unit has finally found its stride heading into a home series with Bemidji State tonight and Saturday.
"We just have to be patient," Alex Petan, the team's leading scorer with eight goals said. "When you start rushing things and forcing passes, that's when you struggle. We just want to keep control of the puck. ... It is going to get rolling pretty soon."
If the power play does start rolling, Tech will likely have defenseman Shane Hanna to thank.
The freshman came up with his first collegiate goal in Alaska and a trio of points as the "quarterback" on the special teams unit.
Coach Mel Pearson and the staff have known Hanna possesses the raw ability to be a difference-maker, and the freshman's adjustment to the speed of the college game is paying dividends.
Former-senior Steven Seigo thrived in that role last season, and Tech is hoping Hanna can show the consistency to replace that production.
"I thought our power play was really good in Fairbanks," Pearson said. "When (Hanna) gets going that can just open up a lot of options. ... you can see he is playing with more confidence right now. He is trying things he wouldn't have even thought of a month ago."
"Just a relief to get the first one out of the way," Hanna added.
Hanna, this week's WCHA?Rookie of the Week, comes to Tech from the British Columbia Hockey League, same as Petan.
Both Hanna and Petan acknowledge the speed of the game is a big adjustment starting in college, and Hanna's play has picked up as he has grown used to it.
"I feel like we have started to click out there," Hanna said. "We got a lot of chances going to the net and a couple of them went in."
"He is doing the small things better now," Pearson said. "Stuff like moving his feet and changing his shooting lane at the blue line once he passes, instead of just standing there waiting to get the puck back. ... Those things make a big difference at this level."
Bemidji will provide a stern litmus test for the power play's improvement, ranking No. 2 in the WCHA in penalty kill with an 85.5 percent success rate.
Bemidji also ranks second in the conference in points with 11, though Tech, which sits at nine points, has two games in hand.
"I wouldn't say these are must win games, but they are critical games," Pearson said. "We have a good opportunity this weekend to jump up in the standings."