Dog fight: Huskies and Bulldogs face off
BIG RAPIDS, Mich. — The Michigan Tech Huskies hockey season is off to a good start for the young team who have bounced back from a slow start that saw them lose three of their first four to improve to 3-3. With four more road games in November, the Huskies are off first to face the Ferris State Bulldogs.
Coach Joe Shawhan is using this stretch of road games for his players to focus in on their game.
“I don’t mind being on the road,” he said. “That’s great focus time with the players as long as they’re maintaining their studies. Being on the road is a team-building type of thing. You can get a lot of work done individually. I think for team bonding, it’s not a bad thing.”
The Huskies’ season is back-loaded with home games this season to balance the early rash of road contests.
“If you could go on the road and early and win, then (you) know that you have a lot of home games in the bank (during) the back end (of the season),” said Shawhan. “It’s not the easiest thing to win on the road, but we don’t mind traveling. It’s been good for us.”
Coach Shawhan was happy with not only his freshman players, but the team as a whole in their 2-1 and 4-1 victories over the now 0-10 Alabama Huntsville last weekend.
“The group was really good,” he said. “I think we’ve played almost everybody now. We’ve gotten to take a look at them in action. Our veterans were outstanding on Saturday night, especially in the third period.
“The whole crew played a tremendous hockey game. (In) the third period, (they) pulled together and did exactly what we’ve been asking them to do (by) getting more team-oriented when it’s on the line.”
Goaltending is quickly proving to be a strength for the Huskies right now, which is very different from where the team was 365 days ago. They have found consistency in all three goaltenders in the lineup.
“I think our goaltending is a strength,” said Shawhan. “I’ll play any of them anytime. Robbie Beydoun has been great in practice. Right now I’m more than pleased with the efforts we’ve gotten in practice (along with) the performances we’ve gotten in games. I’m happy with it.”
Tech is currently 1-2 in Saturday night play so far this season, but Shawhan sees his team growing and starting to have the compete level necessary to grind out Saturday wins against both Ferris State this weekend and Clarkston after.
“We played a good game,” said Shawhan of Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers. “We ended extremely strong (with) 16 chances in the third period, which is good.
“It’s just growth (by) pulling together (and) creating synergy on the ice and playing as a unit. It’s not as much skill, (but more) a grind and you have to be able to still create offense and defense in those types of environments. That’s where we struggled (in) the first two weeks.”
While defensively and in goal, things look good, the Huskies took a major blow to their offense against the Chargers. Senior winger Jake Jackson was injured and is expected to be out of action for awhile.
“He’s going to be out for a bit,” said Shawhan. “The doctors will determine (for) how long. I don’t know what the final prognoses is, but (it is likely) 4-6 (or) 6-8 (weeks).”
The Bulldogs are 4-4 overall and 2-0 in WCHA play so far this season. The Bulldogs returned a large chunk of last year’s rebuilding season and now have 15 upperclassman in their lineup. They also have a distinct advantage at home as the Ewigleben Sports Complex has a unique feel to it, both in how the rink is set up and and how the Ferris State student section is set up behind the opposing goal.
“They know how to get it done,” he said of the Bulldogs. “They cycle their classes a bit (and) last year was their rebuild year and now for the next three they’ll grow. Their rink is different from most in our league to play in. Regardless of what anybody says, it’s small. They play it well (by) taking risks and can recover by keeping their feet moving, which elevates their game.”
Shawhan thinks that, despite the rink issues, attention to special teams will give the Huskies an advantage this weekend.
“Special teams are huge,” he said. “Matching their compete level is huge (and) staying focused shift to shift is huge because you can’t take time off and hope somebody else does a job for you. They have a tendency to swarm and throw everything at the net (and) are much more aggressive on the forecheck in that rink.”
The Bulldogs are led offensively by junior defenseman Nate Kallen, who has a team-high seven assists. Freshman forward Hunter Wendt is an early favorite for Freshman of the Year, with a team-high five goals and six points in seven games.
In goal, the Bulldogs have two capable goaltenders. Junior Justin Kapelmaster has been good for two seasons, but is starting out slowly with an 0-4 record and a 4.44 goals against average. At the same time, freshman Roni Salmenkangas has flown out of the gates, going 4-0 in six appearances with a 1.80 goals against average and a .927 save percentage.
The Huskies will faceoff against the Bulldogs at 7:07 p.m. both Friday and Saturday in the R.L. Ewigleben Sports Complex.