No. 20 Michigan Tech hosts rival Wildcats
The season began just 97 days ago.
But today is already the final home game of the regular season for the No. 20 Michigan Tech Huskies (15-8-1, 5-5 WCHA).
And it comes against none other than the Huskies’ arch-rival Northern Michigan (8-13-1, 6-5-1).
Michigan Tech ended a three-game scoring drought and losing streak with an emphatic 4-1 win against Lake Superior State on Tuesday.
The Huskies are 7-3 this month. Tuesday’s win helped the Huskies’ scoring average to three goals per game this month, the highest of the season. Tech’s goals-against average is 1.70, the best since the two games in late November.
The Wildcats come to town having tied and lost to Bowling Green last weekend. They’re 4-3-1 in February.
Northern’s 3.38 goals scored per game in February is slightly behind the 3.75 goals in December. The Wildcats’ 8-2 win against Alabama Huntsville on Feb. 17 helped.
The Wildcats also have a season-best 2.66 goals-against average.
The Huskies’ 100th season has revealed itself as one unlike any that came before. The season got off to a late start because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After the season started, schedules changed as schools dealt with positives, the Huskies included.
On the ice, the pause the Huskies had by quarantining proved to be a non-factor. The Huskies swept Northern Michigan in the teams’ last matchup on Jan. 23 and Jan. 25. The Huskies won 2-0 and 4-1.
The Huskies also swept the Wildcats on Dec. 18-19. Tech won 4-3 in overtime and 3-1.
Sophomore goaltender Blake Pietila gave up four goals on 24 shots against Bemidji State on Feb. 19. He was benched the next night and returned to the crease for the Huskies’ win on Tuesday. Pietila made 33 saves on 34 shots for the win.
“It was kind of like a reset for me,” he said. “I thought it was a bad (Feb. 19) game on my part. Just looking forward to get back in there and when I get back in there, just be ready to go.”
It was a rare hiccup for Pietila this season, whose save percentage has ranked among the top five in the country.
Going into this weekend, Pietila’s .938 save percentage is fifth-best in the country. Pietila’s 18 games played is second-most, behind Jack LaFontaine’s 22 games played.
Shawhan praised sophomore right wing Jake Crespi after Tuesday’s game. Crespi, with three goals and assists, put together a strong game Tuesday with a couple scoring chances including a partial breakaway during a penalty kill.
“He was at a stage for us where he’d have a good game and then he’d have just an average one,” Shawhan said. “Then he got to a stage where he’d have a couple good games and then an average game. Now it’s kind of gone back to the good game, average game. A good game and a couple average game. Today was a very good game.
“His speed was noticeable. He made good smart decisions with the puck. He didn’t make soft plays. When he had to get the puck deep, he got it deep. He was also very good with his changes. He got himself in a very good position to be able to help his line change before he got overtired. He played an absolute tremendous game. Misiak wasn’t feeling well — maybe food or something — he cut the first period short and then fought through it.”
Part of the Huskies’ consistency in their 100th season could be explained by roster stability. Three players have at least 100 games played for the Huskies.
Senior forward Justin Misiak has 143 games played. Rockwell has 102 games played and junior forward Alec Broetzman (101) also achieved the milestone.
Three more players are closing in on 100 games, including junior forwards Trenton Bliss (96), Brian Halonen (96), junior defensemen Colin Swoyer (99) are the others.