Tech hockey making improvements

By the time the final buzzer sounded on the Michigan Tech Huskies’ 5-1 victory Saturday night in Marquette, the Huskies had accomplished something they had not yet done this year: sweep an opponent over the course of a weekend.

Coupled with Friday’s 2-0 win at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena, the Huskies finally looked like the team many thought they were going to be.

Oh, and they did it against rival Northern Michigan while hitting on multiple goals from the week prior.

I will back up a little. Each week during the season, I sit down with head coach Mel Pearson. The meeting accomplishes two things: I get his thoughts a couple days after a given weekend is over, which gives a better sense of how he feels the team did, and I get a sense of how they prepare for the upcoming weekend.

The topics we cover about the Huskies usually center around the same, or at least similar subjects each week, since not much changes from week to week. If a player or a group of players are emerging, we will spend some time on them as well.

This past week, we talked about the state of the goaltending situation. Coming into the weekend, senior Matt Wintjes had struggled to a 1-2-1 record with a 3.25 goals against average. His numbers were only slightly better than those of sophomore Devin Kero, who sports a record of 0-3-1 overall with a 3.30 goals against average.

Freshman Angus Redmond had played just over 12 minutes of a single hockey game against Alabama-Huntsville. He would be the first to admit, it had not gone well.

“When the opportunity presents itself, you have to be ready,” Mel told me this past week when asked about goaltending. “We always talk about being ready, so when your number is called, you can go in and do well.

“It’s still a three-man competition for the starting job even though Angus has not played. He will get his opportunity shortly because these guys have been given the opportunity and they haven’t taken advantage of that.”

Redmond was given that opportunity Friday night, and he ran with it. He stopped all 19 shots the Wildcats threw his way to earn a shutout in his first career start. He followed that up on Saturday night by stopping 29, including 15 in the final frame. The only puck that beat him on the weekend came on a 5-on-3 power play for the Wildcats when Robbie Payne found the back of the net.

With parts of three games under his belt at the NCAA Division I level, Redmond has a 2-0-0 record with a 1.36 goals against average and a .946 save percentage.

Talk about being ready.

Another topic Pearson talked about last Tuesday was getting the offense going, since that would, theoretically, help the defense become more comfortable.

“We’re not scoring in bunches right now,” said Pearson. “We have got to get [Joel] L’Esperance going, we have got to get [Tyler] Heinonen going, we have got to get [Jake] Lucchini], [Brent] Baltus, [Jake] Jackson. Some guys are sitting on a goose egg. We have to get them going.”

Friday night, Lucchini scored on the power play during the first period. The goal was assisted by Baltus and L’Esperance. Jackson added his first of the year in the third period to seal the win.

Saturday, Heinonen and Baltus both scored, just 40 seconds apart.

Assistant captain Mike Neville, a player Pearson has challenged to be more involved offensively as a senior, scored Saturday as well, giving him two goals in his last three games.

Three freshmen picked up firsts Saturday night. Redmond and Gavin Gould each picked up their first assists of the season. Mitch Reinke scored his first goal. All three could be very important pieces for the Huskies throughout the remainder of the season.

With goaltending stopping pucks and the offense scoring pucks, the pressure was lifted off of the Huskies’ veteran defensive core. The two seniors, captain Cliff Watson and assistant captain Shane Hanna, the two juniors, Mark Auk and Matt Roy, and the sophomore Dane Birks combined with Reinke to hold the Wildcats to just the one goal, on the power play, for the weekend. Redmond, who was the direct benefactor of the strong play, was quick to praise his teammates.

“The guys played great in front of me, obviously,” said Redmond. “They didn’t give them much The guys in front of me, I could not have done it without them.”

There is still lots of season to go, but one thing is for sure, the Huskies are a good team with the potential to be a great one if they continue to play the way they have the last two weeks.