Looking to keep momentum
With a return home, Tech hopes to build off win over ND
HOUGHTON — After two straight seasons in which the WCHA’s leading scorer came from the No. 20 Michigan Tech Huskies, the start of the 2016-17 season saw a distinct departure from that guaranteed offense, as they struggled to score four goals over the first four games, racking up a 0-4 record in that time.
In their fifth game, the Huskies exploded for seven goals in a 7-3 win over Alabama-Huntsville. Heading into the Great Lakes Invitational, the Huskies scored at least four goals nearly every weekend, earning a 12-3-3 record during that run.
In the semifinal of the GLI against Michigan, the Huskies struck twice in a 2-0 victory. Both goals came from blueliners as captain Cliff Watson and sophomore Dane Birks each scored their first goals of the season.
The Huskies were held scoreless against then-No. 16 Western Michigan in the GLI championship game and then picked up just one goal in a 3-1 loss a week later at then-No. 12 Notre Dame.
“I would say it was a little bit of holiday hockey,” said Huskies coach Mel Pearson. “You have some rust you have to shake off. It’s a good thing we had those games and now we can focus on getting back into our league.”
Saturday night, the Huskies broke out of their offensive funk, scoring four times to defeat the Fighting Irish and close out the nonconference portion of their schedule in the best way possible with a 4-2 win.
“We had a good game Saturday night at Notre Dame,” said Pearson. “We played well as a team. We worked a lot harder in the game. We played grittier without the puck. Consequently, it lead to us scoring some goals, because we were in a little funk.”
A driving force behind the uptick in the offense was the play of freshman center Alex Smith, who assisted on Jake Jackson’s second-period tally to even the game at 1-1, and then his show of strength to claim a loose puck before depositing that puck in the net for his first goal in 11 games.
What makes Smith’s accomplishments even more impressive was the fact that, prior to the game, Pearson and his staff had considered making Smith a healthy scratch.
“He hasn’t played maybe like he should, like he can” said Pearson. “You can get complacent, and complacent is not a good word to be around this building. We just wanted him to play harder, play grittier.”
While the Huskies will look to build upon their modest offensive outburst last Saturday, they might be getting some reinforcements back this weekend in the form of freshman defenseman Mitch Reinke and junior center Dylan Steman.
Of the pair, Reinke is more likely to play this weekend, but the knowledge that both are close to returning is good news for the Huskies.
“[Mitch] skated all last week,” said Pearson. “We wanted to give him the best chance to be ready for the conference games here in the last push.
“He’s day-to-day, as is Steman. [Steman] is doubtful this weekend, but hopefully [he’ll be ready for] Minnesota State.”
This weekend, the Huskies are home to face off with the ninth-place Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves. The Seawolves are 5-14-3 overall and 4-9-3-1 in WCHA play, good for 16 points, three back of Lake Superior State and Alaska.
Recently, the Seawolves have begun a long climb away from their 1-11-2 start. In their last eight games, the Seawolves are 4-3-1, but have not traveled outside the state of Alaska to do so. They did topple then-No. 15 Bemidji State on Dec. 30 before defeating Ferris State on last Friday.
Captain Matt Anholt leads the offensively with a team-high 10 assists and 15 points. Junior forward Tad Kozun is quietly having another good season with four goals and 10 points. Junior defenseman Jarrett Brown moves the puck well, as evidenced by his seven assists and 10 points.
While the Seawolves are not particularly threatening offensively, they are extremely good defensively — junior goalie Olivier Mantha’s numbers show in goal. While he is 5-12-3 overall, he carries a goals against average of 2.61 and a save percentage of .917.
GAME TIMES: Game times this weekend will be 7:07 p.m. both Friday and Saturday at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena with radio coverage provided by 93.5 FM WKMJ.