Michigan Tech searches for answers after deflating 4-0 loss to rival NMU

Michigan Tech’s Brent Baltus prepares to shoot before Northern Michigan’s Atte Tolvanen makes a save, Saturday, at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. NMU earned a 4-0 victory. (Bryce Derouin/Daily Mining Gazette)

MARQUETTE — Michigan Tech is a team without heart. And Joe Shawhan is a coach who’s run out of patience. 

The Huskies started their season 4-1-1 before taking a four-game slide with a tie tacked on at the end. This past weekend they had the perfect chance to turn the corner and build momentum with a two-game series against the rival Northern Michigan Wildcats. After Friday’s win things looked positive for Tech, but when they took to the ice at the Berry Events Center in Marquette, that changed — quickly. 

Tech came out lifeless and lacking in urgency. A packed house of 4,260 people watched as the Huskies fell to NMU 4-0, dropping to 5-6-2 (3-5-2 WCHA).  

“My message to the team was if you don’t show up to compete, whatever skill you have doesn’t matter, and we didn’t show up to compete and we didn’t show up with much skill,” Shawhan said. “It is as simple as that.”

In the first period of Tech’s 4-1 victory over Northern on Friday, everything went right for the Huskies. In the first period of Saturday’s game, everything went wrong. 

The animosity between Tech and Northern was clear from the start, and Northern came ready to fight. Two major penalties were called in the first, and two shoving matches broke out in front of the Tech goal. The packed stands provided a loud environment that contributed to the on-ice intensity.

“We addressed that we were going to be in their rink tonight and that it was going to be a hard, physical game, and I thought we got bullied the whole night. I didn’t think we pushed back at all,” Shawhan said. “The atmosphere instilled fear in this team. Last night the atmosphere was in our favor and gave our guys courage. Tonight it was in the other corner.” 

Tech held tough for the first 15 minutes, but the pressure was on goalie Patrick Munson. NMU seemed to set up camp in front of the net for most of the period, and by the time it was over, the Wildcats held a 2-0 lead. Joesph Nardi, who scored NMU’s lone goal on Friday, put his team up 1-0 at 16:12. Then, just over a minute later Robbie Payne fielded a puck that bounced off Munson and made it 2-0. 

Tech killed two power plays in the period but was outshot 13-4. The Huskies also didn’t record a shot until 10 minutes had gone by. 

In the second period, Tech came out with renewed energy, getting four quick, quality shots in the first 4:30 of play but none found the net. Tech even had a 5-on-3 chance when two Wildcats were whistled at 6:06 — Rylan Yaremko for tripping and Filip Starzynski for cross-checking. But instead of Tech narrowing the deficit, Northern built its lead. 

At 8:30, Payne recorded his second goal of the game, putting NMU up 3-0 and forcing Shawhan to pull Munson in favor of junior Devin Kero. 

NMU added another goal in the third when Filip Starzynski skated to the net and snuck the puck past Kero’s right leg. But by that point, the contest was already decided. 

Northern got a competitive effort from seniors Starzynski and Payne that propelled the Wildcats to victory. 

“Our seniors are the heartbeat of our team and to see them bounce back like that just shows the commitment and willingness to be all in,” NMU head coach Grant Potulny said.

Tech, on the other hand, doesn’t have that heartbeat. The Huskies have a roster packed with players who Shawhan says are used to being supporting members, but now he needs them to step into the spotlight.

“I think we like it easy, and tonight was going to be anything but easy,” he said. “It was going to be a battle right from the start. I’ll take responsibility for it, but we have an identity crisis within our group with guys who want other people to take the responsibility in hard times and that doesn’t work in athletics.”

The shutout continued to expose the same weaknesses Tech can’t seem to solve. 

There’s uncertainty in the net, with three goalies fighting for ice time each game, difficulties on special teams and a lack of aggression on offense.

Tech failed to score on the power play, going 0 for 5 in the game and 2 for 22 in its last four matchups. 

The Wildcats outshot the Huskies 28-19 and Tech struggled to work itself into hard ice for high-percentage looks. NMU’s defense proved challenging to work around. Atte Tolvanen, who played in goal in place of Friday’s starter Mathias Israelsson, had 19 saves.

“I think that is probably the easiest shutout a goaltender is going to get,” Shawhan said. “We didn’t spend enough time in that hard ice to get good chances at the net. We shot it wide and got out of there. I’m extremely disappointed with our effort.”

Next up, Tech will take its problems out of town for a four-game road trip, beginning with a two-game series at Alaska Anchorage, Friday and Saturday, both at 11:07 p.m. 

Michigan Tech 0 0 0  – 0  

Northern Michigan 2 1 1 – 4  

First period  

NMU – Joseph Nardi (Zach Diamantoni, Jordan Klimek), 16:12, 1-0.  

NMU- Robbie Payne (Darien Craighead, James Vermeulen), 17:37, 2-0.

Second period  

NMU – Payne (Diamantoni, Troy Loggins), 8:30, 3-0.

Third period  

NMU- Filip Starzynski (Rylan Yaremko, Brett Heikkila), 8:45, 4-0.   

Saves  

Tech: Patrick Munson 12, Devin Kero 12.

NMU: Atte Tolvanene 19. 

Penalties  

Tech: 9/21; NMU: 8/30.   

Power plays  

Tech: 0/5; NMU 1/7. 

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