Picking up the pieces
Michigan Tech looks to bounce back against?Ferris State after sweep in Bemidji
HOUGHTON — For the Michigan Tech Huskies, the season has been a long one in more ways than one.
The Huskies have traveled to play 23 of their 34 games thus far. They have lost two upperclassmen for essentially the season in assistant captain Brent Baltus and junior Dylan Steman. Several other Huskies are battling everything from illness to injuries to Delta Airlines computer systems.
To head coach Mel Pearson, it was not surprising that the Huskies were less than stellar last weekend against the WCHA-leading Bemidji State Beavers. The losses of 4-2 on Friday and 3-0 on Saturday marked the first conference losses since Dec. 2 and the first back-to-back losses since Oct. 8.
“I told the team before the weekend that that weekend would not be the defining weekend of our season,” said Pearson. “It was an important weekend, one where we hoped to do better than we did.”
The Huskies have twice seen the Beavers, and each series came after long road trips. When they faced the Beavers in December, it was during the weekend that followed a 10-trip to Alaska. This time, the players arrived home Monday night from Alabama-Huntsville and left for Bemidji on Wednesday, leaving no time for practice in between.
Pearson felt the team gave a valiant effort, all things considered.
“I give our guys a ton of credit because they had just a brutal week,” said Pearson. “It was not the ideal situation to go into with your team, with illness and injury and a lot of other things. Our team played hard. We didn’t accomplish what we wanted to, but I am proud of the effort they put in and how hard they battled.”
At the same time, Pearson is also encouraged to hear from community members the incredible disappointment fans have after the Huskies were swept for the first time since October, especially given that not long ago, sweeps by opponents were more the norm than the exception they have become.
“There’s a lot of good things going on here with this team,” said Pearson. “When was the last time we had three consecutive years of home ice in the playoffs?
“I like it. The expectations are high. People are disappointed we are not going to finish first. I like that.”
On Friday, the Huskies got goals from freshman Mitch Reinke and captain Cliff Watson to take a 2-1 lead before the Beavers struck three times in the third to steal the victory.
For Watson, the goal was just his second of the season. Pearson had high praise for his senior leader.
“It’s good for Cliff,” said Pearson. “It’s nice to see him get rewarded, offensively. He doesn’t worry about that, but it is good.”
In the case of Reinke, the youngster has been one of the Huskies’ most consistent performers offensively since being inserted into the lineup. With a goal and an assist on Friday, he is now sixth on the team with five goals and 15 points.
Pearson feels Reinke is not only one of the best Huskies’ defenders, he might be one of the best in the WCHA.
“He’s one of the best in the league, regardless of what his class is,” said Pearson.
This weekend, the Huskies are home for Winter Carnival and hoping to tap into a little of that carnival magic. While it can be a week of distractions — with the statues, the extra activities around campus, and much more — Pearson expects that the Huskies will be focused on the task at hand: the Ferris State Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs are currently tied with Lake Superior State for sixth in the WCHA with a record of 8-11-3-2, good for 29 points. Overall, the Bulldogs are 9-16-4 on the season.
Senior Gerald Mayhew leads the team in scoring with team-highs in goals (15) and points (26). He is on pace for his best season ever offensively in his final year.
Sophomore Corey Mackin is also having a strong season with 21 points in 28 games.
In goal, sophomore Darren Smith, who broke Huskies’ fans’ hearts last season in the WCHA Final Five, has struggled to a 2-14-1 record this season, giving way to freshman Justin Kapelmaster. Kapelmaster is 7-2-3 record in 14 appearances. He has a 1.99 goals against average and a .941 save percentage.
Game for Friday night is 7:07 p.m. at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena. Saturday’s game will start at 5:07 p.m.