College Hockey: Winter Carnival series a snapshot of Huskies’ entire season so far
HOUGHTON — Last weekend’s Winter Carnival series against Lake Superior was a microcosm of Michigan Tech’s entire season.
Energetic and productive shifts followed with lulls and lapses on offense and defense, periods of lackluster play, all punctuated with prophetic moments of greatness and potential.
All of that was jampacked into two games last Friday and Saturday at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena in front of a combined attendance of 6,766.
The Huskies’ line production of nine points, including three points apiece by left wing Alec Broetzman, center Alex Smith and right wing Brian Halonen in Saturday’s 4-3 overtime win felt like an offensive breakthrough. Saturday was just the second time since the new year the Huskies scored four goals in a game.
Offensive puck possession was a strong point for Tech against the Lakers. Despite tying with 72 shots apiece for the Huskies and Lakers, Michigan Tech had multiple scoring chances that stemmed from puck possession.
“We were winning more battles, possessing the puck more,” Halonen said after Saturday’s game. “(Friday) night they kind of had their way with us on that end, but tonight we turned it around and had a lot more puck possession. Any time you have good puck possession, good things will happen.”
The Huskies (16-14-3, 11-11-2 WCHA) also had strong goaltending. Despite starter Matt Jurusik giving up two goals on nine shots, Shawhan pulled him for freshman Blake Pietila nearly 12 minutes into the first. Pietila was tested early and often, and he allowed five goals on 21 shots. Robbie Beydoun, who hadn’t played since Nov. 8 against Minnesota State, started and played all of Saturday in the win, making 39 saves.
“Obviously when you give up seven goals, it’s not going to feel very good. Everyone just kind of had a sour feeling in their stomach (Saturday) coming to the rink this morning,” Beydoun said of the 7-3 loss after Saturday’s overtime win. “When I saw I was getting the start, I thought it would be an opportunity to get the team a boost and just kind of recharge the team and they obviously went out there and scored some goals for me.”
Tech also showed some offensive creativity the team has been practicing during the week. Defenseman Colin Swoyer broke up along the right wing and took a cross-ice pass at center ice from Trenton Bliss. Swoyer skated in through the right circle and wristed a shot past Mitens 58 seconds into the second period of Friday’s game that cut the Lakers’ lead to 3-2. Swoyer’s goal and the Broetzman-Smith-Halonen production gave glimpses into what the Huskies are able to do when playing with those fleeting bursts of energy and confidence.
Inconsistency has plagued the Huskies all year.
The young Tech team has fallen into lulls during the game where it seems to slack after taking a lead. The Huskies have been prone to lapses after giving up a tying or go-ahead goal. Such was the case in the 7-3 loss Friday, the most goals allowed by Tech all season.
The Huskies scored first in both games, but didn’t have an answer for LSSU’s three goals in a six minute span on Friday.
On Saturday, the Huskies never relinquished the lead after Halonen’s goal 15 seconds into Saturday’s contest. The Lakers tied it up three times but never led. Tech showed a resilience in that regard which was almost non-existent the previous day.
“We came out in the first 8-9 minutes or so and I thought we were very good. We had good puck possesion. We had good presence,” Huskies head coach Joe Shawhan said of Friday’s loss on WKMJ-FM. “Then I think it all changed when they got that first goal. That’s been kind of what’s happening. Our starts have been very good and then we go down. I think it weighs a little bit on the players. I think it weighs a little bit on the bench. It goes 1-1 and then all of a sudden we’re down 2-1. It gave Lake Superior confidence and I think it drained the confidence out of us.”
Some of the lapses caused by inconsistency and lack of awareness reared its ugly head when Lakers forward Ashton Calder scored a short-handed goal in Friday’s game.
“That one was disappointing and probably emblematic,” Shawhan said. “Went down behind our net on the penalty kill and everybody in the rink knew a guy was coming up late whether he went to the bench. You have to be a little bit more aware as a team, actually a lot more aware.”
Tech’s power-play has struggled most of the season, but has been a glaring absence in the Huskies’ overall game. While special teams highlight the strengths and weaknesses of a team, the Huskies’ defense has thrived in penalty kill, while the inconsistent offense has struggled mightily with the man advantage.
Tech is 44th in the country in power-play opportunities (15.91 percent). Harvard, the nation’s top power-play team, has scored on 30.86 percent of power plays. The highest ranked WCHA team is Minnesota State at No. 6 with 26.40 percent. Since the new year, Michigan Tech has scored on 5 of 43 power-play opportunities, or 11.6 percent.
Michigan Tech’s penalty kill has been strong this season with an overall of 82.35 percent, the 20th-best in the nation. The Huskies’ penalty kill has been stronger since the new year, killing 29 of 34 penalties, or 85.30 percent.
Michigan Tech visits at Ferris State this week.