Michigan Tech looking for consistency down final stretch

Michigan Tech’s Joe Shawhan coaches during the GLI at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Jan. 1 against Michigan State. (Geoff Miller photo)

HOUGHTON — The Michigan Tech Huskies are in the midst of a 13-day break between their last contest against Arizona State, and the next one versus Alaska. But don’t let the word “break” deceive you. Off-weeks are even more intense than game weeks.

“Right now we are focusing on attention to detail,” coach Joe Shawhan said. “This gives us time to slow it down a little bit, do some correcting and some teaching. It is different than a game week because we can take our time and be more diligent so we won’t skip anything. We don’t have to worry about energy consumption, but just execution.”

Tech (11-9-5) is coming off a somewhat bizarre four-game road trip, where the Huskies went 2-2 in the GLI and the Ice Vegas Invitational. Tech defeated Michigan State and Boston College but dropped both championship games to Bowling Green State and Arizona State. And at first, the losses left Shawhan a bit confused.

“Going in I would have thought our best opportunities to win would be against Bowling Green and Arizona State,” he said. “As it turns out, it went the exact opposite and our best games were against Michigan State and Boston College.”

His thinking makes sense. Michigan State is a Big 10 team that plays tough competition, while Boston College was ranked No. 13 when they met. Bowling Green is a team that Tech is familiar with, playing multiple times this season (Losing one and tying one prior to the GLI), and Arizona State has struggled to pick up wins, with a 6-12-4 record.

But that’s what this 13-day “break” is for, figuring out what the deal is with Tech. The answer, it turns out is pretty simple: The Huskies don’t match up well with physical teams, and their discipline is a work in progress.

“We have to learn to play against teams that focus on defense first and offense as it comes,” Shawhan said. “What we end up doing against those really tight checking, defensively committed hockey teams is we start taking chances as the game goes on.

“That ultimately exposes us defensively.”

Against Bowling Green, a team that averages three goals a game, the Huskies remained in striking distance after the second period. They were down 2-1 before Bowling Green fired off two third-period goals.

Arizona State averages 2.1 goals a game — Tech scores 3.04 — but the Sun Devils came out shooting and took a 3-0 lead after two periods. Tech battled back, scoring two goals in the third, but the comeback was stopped short.

Whether it is in individual games, or weekend stands, the Huskies can’t find any consistency, and that extends to all areas of the ice.

Prior to leaving for the GLI, Shawhan and his staff put in some new power-play schemes which had moderate success. The Huskies were 4-17 (23.5 percent) over the four games, with two power-play goals coming against Boston College.

“We are finding that our power play is having success early,” Shawhan said. “Our patience and awareness is something we are trying to focus on. We have options available but aren’t seeing options all of the time. We have to take what is given to us and not try to force or dictate or plan, but be able to react.”

But the biggest question mark for Tech is one that has been looming all season: Who to put in the net. Shawhan has kept his goalies in a constant battle all season, but with 12 games remaining and a postseason bid at risk, that question needs to be answered. Soon.

Patrick Munson has played in 17 games, Robbie Beydoun has played eight and Devin Kero has appeared in five. But as is the theme of Tech right now, consistency is key, and none of the three have it.

“We are getting to the point where we have to decide who we are going to go with down the stretch, and we are getting the same type of deal where we get a good type of effort in their first start, and then maybe OK in the second, but eventually there is a trend toward inconsistency,” Shawhan said. “We would like to see that go the other way, to see growth rather than starting with a good effort and then going down.

“We really desperately want a goaltender to step up and take charge and give us some stability.”

The four-game series left Shawhan with problems to solve, but it also ironed out some issues. Now the Huskies have three lines that are capable of scoring.

Brent Baltus, Jake Jackson and Alex Smith have been reliable since they began playing together, but now Shawhan is seeing chemistry with his second two lines. Dylan Steman, Greyson Reitmeier and Justin Misiak were responsible for six points over the four-game stretch, and Jake Lucchini, Alex Gillies and Gavin Gould recorded 10 points.

After the 13-day off period, the Huskies return to action on Jan. 19 and 20 when they host Alaska. Both games begin at 7:07 p.m