HOUGHTON - Michigan Tech hockey coach Mel Pearson has a pet maxim he likes to employ on the heels of an aesthetically-choppy victory.
"They don't ask you how, they ask you how many."
Pearson was not available for comment Friday night after the Huskies put in an uneven 60 minutes to beat visiting Alabama-Huntsville 4-1.
Michigan Tech’s Blake Pietila scores a goal during Friday’s Winter Carnival game against Alabama-Huntsville at MacInnes Student Ice?Arena. Pietila and Tanner Kero had two goals apiece in the Huskies’ 4-1 victory. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
But assistant coach Damon Whitten agreed with the sentiment.
"I don't know that we loved our effort tonight," Whitten said. "We thought individually, one-on-one, a lot of credit goes to Alabama-Huntsville. We knew they would come out hard and play strong and physical, and that is what we saw. We got away from our game ... certainly it is good to get the win on a night you don't think you brought the best effort."
In the grand scheme of things, two points count the same no matter how they are earned. The win moves the Huskies to fourth place in the WCHA standings, putting them in the drivers seat for playoff home ice.
Alabama-Huntsville 0 0 1 - 1
Michigan Tech 1 2 1 - 4
First period - 1, MTU, Blake Pietila 5 (Reid Sturos, Walker Hyland), 7:01. Penalties - UAH, bench (too many players), 10:31; UAH, Stephen McKenna (checking from behind), 14:30; UAH, Jeff Vanderlugt (slashing), 17:55.
Second period - 2, Tanner Kero 11 (Malcolm Gould , C.J. Eick ), 10:33; 3, Tanner Kero 12 (Dennis Rix , Jacob Johnstone) 17:37. Penalties - UAH, CHad Brears (Major/game misconduct-checking from behind) 0:40; MTU, Shane Hanna (hooking), 3:20; MTU, Dennis Rix (slashing), 15:22.
Third period - 4, UAH, ALex Allan 4 (Jack Prince, Doug Reid), 9:28; 5, MTU, Blake Pietila 6 (Reid Sturos, David Johnstone), 13:09. Penalties - MTU, Malcolm Gould (tripping), 7:27; UAH, Doug Reid (tripping), 11:34.
Goalie saves - UAH, Carmine Guerriero 38 (19-8-11), 3 goals; UAH, Matt Larose 9 (0-0-9), 1 goal; MTU, Pheonix Copley 18 (5-10-3), 1 goal.
And Huntsville, a squad with a 1-27-1 record, would have needed an extraordinary effort to overcome the Huskies in Houghton during Winter Carnival. A three-goal win leaves little to complain about.
But Tech would certainly like to see a better collective effort tonight (5:07 p.m.), instead of relying on sporadic bursts of brilliance from Tanner Kero and Blake Pietila (two goals each).
"We had moments in the game where we struggled a bit, but I thought we buried most of our chances and most importantly got the win," Pietila said.
"We can't overlook anyone," Kero added.
Pietila opened the scoring seven minutes into the contest after a nifty give-and-go with fellow Brighton native Reid Sturos.
Pietila slid the puck to Sturos as the pair crossed the blue line, and after waiting for the Charger defender to commit, Sturos gave the puck right back. Pietila finished the sequence with a sharp backhand over Huntsville netminder Carmine Guerriero's shoulder.
Pietila now has eight points in the last five games. The junior captain managed just two points in an 11-game stretch from mid-November to the end of December. He credits the change in performance to a move from the wing to center and getting placed on a line with Reid Sturos and David Johnstone.
"I think I am just playing with more confidence," Pietila said. "I think the switch to center was a big part of it, and Reid and David have been playing with a lot of chemistry lately."
Sturos set up Pietila again in the third period with a tip in front of the net on a power play, allowing Pietila to bury the rebound into an acre of open net.
"The last three goals at least he has had the first assist on them," Pietila said. "He makes great plays and moves his feet. He's fun to play with."
Kero joined Pietila on the scoresheet with a double of his own, lighting the lamp twice in the second period.
The Hancock native pounced on a rebound from Malcolm Gould's acute-angle shot from the corner, and seven minutes later Kero tapped in an odd-man rush with a crisp feed from Dennis Rix.
"The first one was just a really good play by Gould," Kero said. "We've been practicing that the last few weeks, just getting it in that corner and firing it on net, kind of catching the goalie off guard."
Kero had several opportunities for his first career collegiate hat trick in the third period - none bigger than a short-handed breakaway after he forced a turnover at the blueline - but couldn't find the finishing touch.
"Obviously you want to get those back," Kero said with a chuckle. "But we got the win and that is all that matters."
"Tanner Kero is certainly one of the guys who really played up tonight," Whitten added. "We had flashes for sure, some small spurts where we really played well."
The Chargers' Alex Allan beat Pheonix Copley at the end of a power play (technically an even-strength goal) in the third period, but otherwise the sophomore was strong between the pipes, seeing little rubber but called to make tough saves when he did.
In the past, those type of sporadic games have tripped Copley up where few shots get through to him. The Huskies outshot Huntsville 51-21 on the night.
"I thought it was one of Pheonix's best efforts," Whitten said.
"That is a very tough game for a goaltender, but I thought his focus was outstanding and he made those timely saves."
Alex Petan's availability for tonight remains uncertain. The Huskies leading scorer got crushed by an open ice hit in the first period, played one series in the second period - where he turned the puck over at the blue line on a power play and failed to hustle after it - and sat the bench the rest of the frame. He did not appear on the bench in the third period.
"I haven't heard any updates on him," Whitten said.