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Hockey Notebook: Another big freshman class looks to make quick impact

Forwards, defensemen, goalie make up new faces

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

It’s not every year the new guys on campus carry the offensive burden.

Last year, Michigan Tech’s large freshman class made those significant offensive contributions. This year may be a little different, though perhaps not a surprise if it happens.

Three of last year’s freshmen finished in the team’s top-10 points total, including Brian Halonen, Trenton Bliss and Alec Broetzman.

This year, the freshman class features promising young talent to fill in behind those three returning sophomores.

The Huskies have eight freshmen on this year’s roster, including a late add with 6-foot-5, 215-pound sophomore forward David Raisanen.

This year’s freshman class features players at just about every position on the ice and respective skillsets to contribute at each one.

Tech’s freshman class includes five forwards, two defensemen and goaltender Blake Pietila.

Huskies head coach Joe Shawhan has liked what he’s seen on and off the ice from this year’s freshman class.

“They’ve acclimated relatively well in the limited time we’ve had to play with them. We get to see a few reps on a few things. But we don’t get a full evaluation of them going into the first game,” Shawhan said. “We’ll get more as we go along. I think they’ve all acclimated pretty well. They all can, as we see, contribute. Some will catch on to different things quicker than others.

“There hasn’t been any surprises, yet,” Shawhan added. “These are guys we expected to come in and be able to perform and help us right away are showing that they can. The ones that we thought would take a little bit of time, we feel are going to be good in the long run, are showing that same characteristics.”

Defensemen

Chis Lipe (6-1, 195) and Brenden Datema (6-5, 220) each have a lengthy reach to compliment a mostly defensive repertoire. Datema also has shown an explosive slap shot in practice. Lipe referred to himself as a shutdown defenseman. Datema attributed himself shutdown abilities, but brings an offensive element he focused on last year while with the NAHL’s Amarillo Bulls.

“I’d say I’m like a two-way defenseman, but I just worked on my offensive skills a lot last year,” Datema said. “I’ve always been pretty sound defensively, so I’d probably say a shutdown defenseman has been my strong-suit. I also have a heavy shot that I like to let off sometimes.”

Datema, a Sterling Heights native, received offers from Boston University, Minnesota State and Merrimack. He visited Tech in November 2018 and planned to schedule Boston University visit soon after. But being on Tech’s campus made an immediate impression. He committed to Tech on the spot.

“Yeah, you can’t really beat this. I love it here,” he said. “I’m glad I chose here. It’s been awesome ever since.”

Part of Houghton’s charm, being a small town, is the limited off-ice distractions from a place like Boston.

“That’s one of the reasons why I chose here is because I don’t wanna get distracted by anything,” Datema said. “I just want to focus on school and hockey and that’s why I’m here.”

Lipe, a Rockford native, calls himself a shutdown defensemen and loves starting the offensive transition. He’s shown capable awareness and anticipation in practice.

“I like to move pucks up the ice quick just as a shutdown defenseman and join the play every once in a while,” Lipe said. “Try to create a little bit more offense. That’s kind of what I pride myself at being the best at. It’s the most fun thing for me to do I think.”

Forwards

Copper Country high school hockey followers easily recognize the name Jake Crespi.

The Brighton High School graduate (6-0, 190) joined the team on the long bus ride from downstate to play against local teams. He’s no stranger to Houghton, or Michigan Tech’s John MacInnes Student Ice Arena, where his team practiced while in town.

“Those couple trips were very snowy and that’s all I’ve seen of the winter here so far. It was always a lot of fun,” Crespi said. “We got to come and practice here our first day when we arrived. Just loved the rink from the get-go. I remember talking to a couple of my teammates from my junior year about how sweet it would be to play here. So it’s really awesome that it’s become a reality and I’m soaking it all in right now.”

Crespi described his playing style as offense-oriented. Reminiscent of Brett Hull setting up shop on the left faceoff dot, Crespi also likes to claim open ice and wait for a pass. But he mostly pursues the puck.

“I think I’m a fast forward who likes to compete. I do have some hockey sense,” Crespi said. “I’ve been working with the coach on making quicker reads. For the most part it’s a competitive forward who likes to take pucks to the net and retrieve pucks from my teammates.”

Crespi’s season last year with the USHL’s Tri-City Storm was shortened by shoulder surgery. Crespi had a torn labrum that nagged him since high school. Now, he said, he’s at 100 percent.

“I got it fixed after my first year, but it wasn’t completely fixed after the first surgery,” he said. “Got it cleared up, good to go and feeling better than ever.”

Logan Ganie and Parker Saretsky played together in the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints, where they shared the league championship two seasons ago.

Ganie (5-10, 175) has been a self-described pure offensive player, but knows Tech and the WCHA is a different world.

“I’m more an offensive guy. I like to play with the puck in the O-zone,” he said. “I like to make plays, get a lot of shots on net. I feel like I’m gonna have to add to my defensive game to fit in the lineup here. I think I’ll get better at that as well.”

Ganie has gotten off to a slower start on the ice while coming back from an injury, but said he is getting up to speed since returning to practice.

Saretsky (6-0, 175) notes himself as a two-way forward that can play wing or center. He’s seen a lot of practice with Tech at center.

“I don’t really care what position I play. I try to be diverse,” Saretsky said. “Right now they got me at center, so I’ll try to be two-way and help in the D-zone and win a few draws here and there, and contribute offensively whenever I can.”

Logan Pietila (5-11, 165) has good puck sense, the kind that helped him score 12 goals and 23 assists last season for the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. He was also Lipe’s teammate.

Raisanen was a late non-scholarship addition to the team. After not playing hockey two years ago, Raisanen scored 50 points in 60 games last season with the NAHL’s Minot Minotaurs. Despite being 6-5, he stays low in stride and is content to find open ice for a shot on goal, or body up in front of the net and in the corners.

Shawhan said the freshmen forwards are progressing at different paces, but is pleased with what he’s seen.

“Up front, I think Pietila’s showing very well. Saretsky’s showing very well,” Shawhan said. “Again, the limited time we’ve been able to see them, they look like they’re ready to step in and challenge. Then some of the other freshmen forwards, they’re picking it up as they go and getting better and better all the time. But there’s a little bit more acclimation.”

Goaltending

Blake Pietila, Logan’s twin brother, is the smallest of the three goalies on the roster, but that hasn’t made the starter battle between the pipes any easier for Coach Shawhan.

Pietila (5-11, 164) has quick hands and controlled movement in the crease. Despite his size, he’s shown a knack for rebound control and comes out of the crease to cut down on shooting angles.

The goaltending battle is perhaps the team’s most heated position battle heading into this weekend’s season opener at Robert Morris. Shawhan said Pietila’s smaller size means shooters can see more of the net, but he called him a “national talent.” After all, Pietila played for Team USA at the 2018 World Junior A Challenge in December and appeared in three games. He had a .912 save percentage and 2.30 goals-against average with 30 wins with the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders.

“Goaltending has been strong so far from what I’ve seen. All look capable. Veterans are battling hard,” Shawhan said. “(Matt) Jurusik and Robbie Beydoun and Pietila can play. He’s a national talent at that position. A little bit smaller, shows a little bit more net. Shooters here are a little bit better. He’s like a good freshman you’d expect that can come in. He’ll acclimate. It takes a little more time to find what he’s used to and the success he’s used to finding. Day to day his attitude’s outstanding. They all work extremely hard and support each other. There’s friendly competition which is good.”

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