Karnosky: Something brewing at the Mac
Between the second and third periods Saturday night at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena, I ran into a friend of mine who made as bold a statement as I have heard in quite some time: he believes that the Michigan Tech Huskies hockey team will win its next 10 games.
Upon first glance, I fully admit I thought he was nuts.
The Huskies were on the verge of dropping their sixth game of the season and third in a row. However, the reality is, he might be right.
The Huskies are coming off a loss to then-No. 14 North Dakota two weeks ago and two losses to No. 3 Minnesota State this past weekend. Before that, they split with then-No. 17 Bowling Green.
Over the next five hockey weekends, the Huskies travel to face Lake Superior State, who has gotten off to a slow start by playing a batch of perennial NCAA Tournament opponents. After that, they have a home-and-home with Northern Michigan and a trip to Alaska. After that, they return home to face Alaska-Anchorage and Clarkson before heading off to the GLI.
Based on the way the Huskies have played the last two Saturdays, they could definitely win seven of their next eight before the holiday tournament.
After a rough Friday night, where many things went awry for the Huskies, this past Saturday night was a breath of fresh air as the Huskies came the closest they have to play a full 60-minute effort.
“I’m certainly proud of our effort, I just told that to the team,” said head coach Joe Shawhan in his postgame interview with Mix 93. “You can’t come out of that with negative feelings. We know we have to do. We know what we have to work on. We’re working on it.”
The most obvious way the work Shawhan was referring to manifested was in the way the Huskies played in their own end. Playing in front of freshman goaltender Blake Pietila, the Huskies made sure to drive loose pucks away from the front of the net, something they struggled with a few weeks back against Alaska, and also on Friday night against the Mavericks.
“We had very few lapses when we were hemmed in our zone,” Shawhan said. “We are getting better at that part of the game.”
Part of the improvement comes from the personnel that Shawhan employed Saturday night, which included inserting freshman defenseman Brenden Datema into the lineup. Starting the night as the seventh defenseman on the depth chart, Datema played soundly in his own end and was rewarded for his efforts by being a part of the mix at the end of the contest when the Huskies pulled Blake Pietila for an extra attacker.
Shawhan was very pleased with the efforts of Datema.
“I thought Datema did an outstanding job for us on defense,” Shawhan said. “He transitioned well.”
The young goaltender also made a difference by not pushing pucks back out in front of himself, but rather angled them off to the corner. Huskies’ fans should remember that once Pheonix Copley and Jamie Phillips started doing that, both of their careers took off.
Pietila, even after surrendering a goal just 4:55 into the contest, found a way to settle down and help drive the Huskies to bounce back from the early goal and find some grit to start creating opportunities for themselves.
With the Huskies blocking shots and clearing rebounds, they held the Mavericks to just 20 shots on goal Saturday. By comparison, the Mavericks had 18 in the second period alone Friday night.
That defensive effort will be a big part of how Shawhan plans to bring the Huskies back up to the level that former head coach Mel Pearson had it before he left to head to Ann Arbor.
“I know that the community wants us to be a powerhouse,” he said. “We’re working hard at doing that. If we continue to work as hard as we are, and defend as well as we are, we’re going to transition and get back to where the people expect it.”
Shawhan is also pleased with where the work ethic is as this still young group figures out how to win at the Division I level.
“I do like the work ethic that we have,” said Shawhan. “I like the attention to detail we have.
“We’re getting the puck in the offensive zone. We’re moving the puck. We are controlling the puck in the offensive zone. We’re creating forecheck and pressure in the offensive zone. We’re creating pressure in the neutral zone. We’re not giving easy zone entries.
He believes that these efforts will pay off.
“We are doing the things that we need to do to get the puck on our stick to make our offense happen and that’s just going to come with time,” Shawhan said. “I give full credit to our guys for how hard they’re working, (and) what they are trying to accomplish.”
While he did not discuss their efforts, Shawhan and the Huskies saw significant improvements in the work that freshmen forwards Parker Saretsky and Jake Crespi gave as well. The two right wingers should find the net at this level this season, and once they do, the Huskies will have some scoring depth, which will help win games against teams like the Lakers and Wildcats in the coming weeks.