Huskies Hockey: Tech faces tall task, hosting No. 3 Minnesota St.

(Photo Illustration by Adam Niemi/The Daily Mining Gazette; David Archambeau/Photo for The Daily Mining Gazette)

This weekend will be a test to see exactly what kind of hockey team Michigan Tech is this season.

With No. 3 Minnesota State in town, the Huskies (3-4, 1-3 WCHA) face a Mavericks team with an offense and defense among tops in the conference.

Puck drop is 7:07 p.m. today and 6:07 p.m. Saturday.

Minnesota State (6-1, 3-1) has scored 31 goals in eight games, including a 5-1 win on Nov. 2 against Bowling Green, after the Falcons took Friday’s game 2-1 in overtime.

The Huskies are coming off a 3-1 loss at North Dakota in the US Hockey Hall of Fame Game. Tech had scoring chances against the Fighting Hawks, but as has happened in other losses, the Huskies failed to score. They sit in the middle of the WCHA in team scoring — 18 goals in seven games.

But the Huskies are ninth out of 10 teams in shots on goal, averagining 23 per game. Alabama Huntsville is last with 19.2 shots per game.

And that’s the story of this year’s Huskies. At least so far. The multitude of offensive chances has kept the locker room positive, Huskies head coach Joe Shawhan said, adding that facing some of college hockey’s top programs recently is a good challenge for his young team. Facing the Falcons, Fighting

Hawks and Mavericks is a good litmus test for a young Huskies team still figuring out if they’re acidic or basic.

“I think we have some strength in every position except for generating offense,” Shawhan said. “Again, we have a lot of youth there that needs to continue to grow. We’re getting scoring chances now against good hockey teams. We have to keep working at that and turn it into goals. “Once we start getting some goals, I think things will look a lot different from our perspective and guys will gain confidence in that area. It starts from doing that in practice and we have to do that consistenly in practice and bring it into games. It’s good to go into these rinks. It’s good to go into Bowling Green in that environment, it’s good to go into North Dakota into that environment. We get to play the third-ranked team in the country this weekend. These are all good things for a young group to work through and stay positive through it.”

The Huskies’ defensive play has been strong enough to put them near the top of WCHA in goals allowed (14 goals in seven games), second only to Minnesota State (12 goals in eight games).

Minnesota State also ranks atop the conference in other categories. Mankato is first in penalty kill (93.5 percent), shots on goal (274) and net special teams scoring (plus-six).

Senior Marc Michaelis leads Minnesota State with five goals and four assists and freshman teammate Lucas Sowder has two goals and seven assists. Freshman Nathan Smith has two goals and six assists.

“They’re very hard on second pucks, loose pucks,” Shawhan said of Minnesota State. “They create second-chance opportunities, they deny second-chance opportunities. That’s a big part of their game. They play with high energy. They anticipate well.

“To start with, you have to match that. It’s not just matching their work ethic, it’s matching their compete level. That’s the first objective. Once you match that and turn it into a hockey game, you have to go back to what we’re talking about, generate and deny opportunities. Mankato always relies heavily on special teams, power plays specifically. They’re always good on the power play, they always score on the power play against everybody they play against.”

Sophomore Alec Broetzman is Tech’s leading scorer with four goals and three assists. Sophomore Tommy Parrottino has four goals.

Shawhan started junior Robbie Beydoun in goal against North Dakota, a decision he came to soon after Tech’s 4-2 win over the Falcons on Oct. 26 in which Beydoun made 25 saves on 27 shots. Senior Matt Jurusik started Oct. 25 in the Huskies’ 3-1 loss. Shawhan said as of Thursday evening that he hadn’t decided on a starter for Friday’s game against Mankato.

“It varies,” Shawhan said. “If someone is really struggling, that plays a lot into it. If someone has a really good practice, that plays into it. When we get the feeling, we get the feeling and make the decision.”