Bigger, stronger, faster: Huskies hockey has work to do as it enters offseason

HOUGHTON — The Michigan Tech Huskies hockey team faced a number of challenges in the second half of the 2018-19 season concluding their season with two losses to the Bowling Green State Falcons in early March.

Michigan Tech coach Joe Shawhan was proud of his young team’s effort both nights.

“I think our guys played extremely hard in that series,” said Shawhan. “There was a turning point (when) we had a two-(goal) lead midway through the third period in Game One and the wheels kind of came off quickly, which Bowling Green has the ability to do.

“Bowling Green is good at making things happen with traffic, room, and things like that. A couple of deflection goals, a power play goal, a penalty shot, (and) all the sudden, the game gets out of hand on us. I thought our guys competed very hard. they left it all on the ice.”

The Huskies, who won the first two WCHA playoff titles after the conference switched to home sites for the WCHA Final, will not be playing for the championship in 2018-19, but still, Shawhan felt that his team gave everything it had in the end.

“There was disappointment when it was over,” he said. “As a coach, I was happy with the effort that was put in and how hard the players played. “

The second half of the season presented the Huskies with several challenging opponents. One that stuck out to Shawhan was the Minnesota State Mavericks, whom Michigan Tech faced four times. That resulted in three losses and one tie. Ultimately, a younger roster hurt the Huskies in the end.

“Our first-half schedule was friendly for us to have opportunity for success and we took advantage of that,” Shawhan said. “In the second half, we played many of (the teams) more than once, like we had to play Mankato four times in the second half.

“With a much tougher schedule in the second half, our youthfulness (and) inexperience caught up with us against those teams when they were playing their best in the second half on playoff runs,” he said. “We were close (in) virtually every game, but we weren’t able to get over the hump.”

The Huskies finished their season 14-20-4 overall and 13-12-3-1 in WCHA play, which was good for sixth overall.

“We have to chalk that up to experience and say that a lot of guys got a lot of great minutes in critical situations,” said Shawhan. “Hopefully (they) developed a great understanding of what we all need to do to come out on the right end of those in the future.”

When reflecting on the strengths of the season, Shawhan was most proud of strong goaltending and the team’s defensive pressure, which grew as the season progressed.

“I thought our goaltending all season was tremendous,” he said. “We improved on every statistical number defensively that you could improve on, including our penalty kill was better and grew as the year went on.”

From freshman who took the season to grow alongside seniors who left big skates to fill, Shawhan is also proud of the effort his team put in on and off the ice, despite some of those seniors hoping for better endings.

“(As far as) our older players (went), I was proud of the way that they stuck with it and tried to lead by example and kept the mood of the team in a way that we could continue to grow and get as ready as we could for us,” he said.

“I’m proud of what our guys were able to do in the classroom. I’m proud of the guys who were able to sign contracts and go and be able to have early success at the professional level. We have a great group of tremendous young men.”

“Some of the seniors, their careers didn’t end the way that they wanted them to,” he said. “We didn’t make it through the first round of the playoffs. We didn’t get home ice. We didn’t achieve some things, but they still came every day (and) left a good legacy here within our team and left the expectations high. They left (saying), ‘Don’t accept this. Get better.’ I’m very proud of the group that we had.”

Shawhan wants returning players to take the first few weeks of the offseason to recharge, then refocus in on ways to improve in every area of the game as players and then as a team.

“(We have to) get bigger, stronger, faster and smarter in any way that we can,” he said. “Through guys studying (and) paying attention in the weight room, understanding self reflection. All of us (need to do this), coaches as well.

“This certainly a recharge period to start with for the guys to refocus and get their motivation and understand their growth through meetings. Then, it’s a matter of getting better (and) putting it into play. If you don’t act on it, on what you know needs to be done, then we’re only hurting ourselves and we have to identify that.”

“Then it’s a matter of focusing individually and collectively on what we need to do to get better,” he said. “We want to refocus and identify what we need to do to get better and do everything possible to do that.”

Shawhan is also thankful for the community’s support throughout the season and is excited to get ready for the 2019-20 season.

“As always, we’re so fortunate to be in such a great (and) loyal community with great participation in not just the team but the whole athletic department, (from) the Pep Band and all the others who gave us such support this year and lifted us,” he said. “We’re so thankful for that and we’re already energized and excited for next year.”