Back home: Huskies return home to face Nanooks in WCHA series

HOUGHTON — The Michigan Tech Huskies fell to the Clarkson Golden Knights by the same score, 3-1, in both games last weekend. The losses marred the end of a very successful stretch of road games where the Huskies went 5-3.

While they are 5-5-0 on the season, the Huskies come into this weekend ready to get back to work in WCHA play. They come into their series with the Alaska Nanooks undefeated in conference action, and would like to keep it that way.

Huskies coach Joe Shawhan is excited to play at home, not just because they have been on the road for a month, but also because the team will be honoring the area with Copper Country Strong night.

“We’re going to have Copper Country Strong night on Friday night,” he said. “It’s just going to be an incredible homecoming for our guys, for our team and for all of us to share in (a) celebration of sorts of coming together after such a tough tragedy that we went through back in June.”

Coming together has been something that Shawhan has been stressing with his players. Copper Country Strong night is a natural extension of that goal.

“It’s a family atmosphere,” he said. “Everything around here is (about) family. It’s not just a hockey team or a school. The community is family-oriented. It’s a throwback to a different time when everybody looked after (each other) and that’s the beauty of this area. I hope that never changes.”

The Huskies got goals at Clarkson from sophomore Raymond Brice Friday and co-captain Jake Lucchini Saturday. Brice has two goals and four points in six contests. Lucchini leads the team with five goals and 12 points in 10 games.

Brice is taking advantage of injuries to players like assistant captain Jake Jackson, who has missed the last five contests.

“Jackson will be out (and) we don’t quite (when) but we’re hoping that he’ll be back in time for the Great Lakes Invitational,” Shawhan said.

Another sophomore, Tyler Rockwell, has played well in the absence of sophomore Mitch Meek and freshman Eric Gotz on back end due to injuries. The San Jose, California, native has shown growth and leadership in recent games.

“Tyler has been absolutely tremendous,” said Shawhan. “The thing that sells Tyler Rockwell to us is that everybody he plays with evaluates well in the game. Whoever he’s paired with on individual shifts plays well in the game. He has the ability to make guys better and that’s an incredible attribute to have.”

Shawhan waxed about Rockwell’s growth from his freshman to his sophomore years.

“I can’t say enough about the growth he’s had this year,” Shawhan said. “Our entire defensive core has transformed themselves and Tyler has been an intrical part of that.”

Despite the losses last weekend to Clarkson, Shawhan was happy to see organization and a strong penalty kill from his players. Now, he feels, it is all about focusing in on the little details of their game.

“(The) penalty kill has grown and I think that has grown with the evolution of our defensive core,” he said. “Our penalty kill has gotten much better and I thought we played structurally very good hockey. I still say that we’re ahead of where we were a year ago. I don’t know where the top end for us is going to be, but I think all the players would agree with that.

“Now it’s just a matter of the little tactics that can help us go from where we are now to where we want to be.”

He stressed growth among his players.

“It’s (about) the little attention to detail both ways,” said Shawhan. “It’s the continuation to grow as individuals and collectively (to) build synergy within the group. All those things are important. I know that we’re at that stage much earlier in the year, so we’ll see where that takes us.”

Shawhan was also happy with his team’s 5-on-5 performance.

“As far as for our group effort (and) our systematic play, we went in there and gave up four goals that were non (conference) in a tough building,” he said. “They got two empty-netters, but other then that, they were basically 2-1 games (and) we had ample opportunities to score as well.

The Nanooks come to Houghton struggling for wins, going 2-8-2 in 12 contests and 2-3-1 in WCHA play. They split last weekend with Alabama-Huntsville.

Freshman defenseman Chris Jandric is off to a fast start to his collegiate career, having scored two goals and a team-high nine points through 12 games. His brother Steven, a sophomore, and junior Kylar Hope, are also playing well. Both have three goals and six points each.

Junior Anton Martinsson has struggled a bit early in goal, going 0-5-2 overall with a 3.24 goals against average and an .892 save percentage through nine appearances.

The Nanooks are the first two of a four-game homestand in which all are conference matchups and will be a measuring stick for the Huskies.

“We’re going to have some great tests coming up in league play that will determine where we’re at, where we need to be and where we’ll need to go,” said Shawhan. “We’re looking forward to that (because) you have to go through stuff to learn.

“Ultimately, there are teams in our league that we’re going to have to go through if we’re going to have go through if we want to have any success. Those (teams) are on our schedule yet and we’re going to have a chance to see how we match up with them.”

GAME TIMES

The Huskies and Nanooks will faceoff Friday and Saturday at 7:07 p.m. at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

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