Huskies look for consistency against Arizona State

Michigan Tech’s Gavin Gould fights for the puck with Bemidji State’s Justin Baudry Saturday at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena. (David Archambeau/ Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — Arizona State is a team in its third season as a Division I hockey program with a 28.7 win percentage over that span. The Sun Devils are also 7-18-5 on the season, and yet they beat Michigan Tech 3-2 in the Ice Vegas Invitational Championship on Jan. 6.

But the Huskies get a shot to redeem themselves on Friday and Saturday at 7:07 p.m. at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

Despite appearances, ASU is the kind of team that tends to give Tech trouble. The Sun Devils play a physical style of hockey that Tech still struggles to adjust to.

“They are a good team, and they play everybody tough,” coach Joe Shawhan said. “They play with good enthusiasm, and they play a physical kind of brand with outstanding goaltending.”

After going 2-4 over their last six crucial WCHA games, the fifth-place Huskies (15-13-5, 11-10-5 WCHA) take a break from conference action with the series against Arizona State before closing out the season against No. 17 Northern Michigan.

“We want to come out of the weekend (against Arizona State) healthy,”  Shawhan said. “I think it is a little bit of a goal to get everyone in the lineup to try to get some comfort, especially in our goaltending position.”

As the season winds down, Tech is locked in a battle for home ice come playoff time with fourth-ranked Bemidji State. The nonconference series makes Tech’s chances to play at home even slimmer. Tech would need to jump Bemidj in the WCHA standings in order to host a playoff series as one of the top four teams in the WCHA. Tech trails Bemidji by two points in the standings, but with the series against Arizona State, the Huskies only have six conference points up for grabs, while Bemidji has 12.

Still, the series could end up being a positive for the inconsistent Huskies, a team that has only won three games in a row once this season, back in October.

“We are focusing on our game no matter who we play, conference or nonconference,” Shawhan said. We want to play the game a certain way and get comfortable playing that way. We need to be consistent in the way we play with execution and effort.”

Consistency needs to come at all positions, but there certainly is a spotlight between the pipes where senior Devin Kero will be making his eighth start of the season. Kero earned the spot after an impressive 5-1 victory over Bemidji State in Tech’s last outing. The Hancock native had 36 saves and was named MVP of the series as well as WCHA Goaltender of the Week.

“He gave us a great effort last Saturday night, and that was a big game, because it’s not like it was a 5-1 hockey game,” Shawhan said. “That was really a one-goal game going into the third because of the Winter Carnival scenario. We were playing to win that, and he shut the door and gave us a great effort.”

Kero was also in the net in Tech’s last meeting with ASU, where he gave up three goals before being pulled in favor of Patrick Munson midway through the second period.

But after Kero’s heroics against Bemidji, Shawhan didn’t hesitate to give him the starting nod.

“Now he has a feeling for the way they play, so that will help right off the bat,” Shawhan said. “I have confidence in him. He has practiced hard. You never have to question Devin because he always gives you his best effort.”

In Tech’s last matchup against ASU, the Sun Devils took a 3-0 lead after two periods before Tech battled back to within one goal, but the slow start was costly, and the Huskies couldn’t complete the comeback.

“They jumped out to that lead and they protected that lead,” Shawhan said. “We need a better start. That is the biggest thing, but I think we are a better overall team than we were then.”