Huskies begin new year at Lake Superior State

Michigan Tech senior forward Brian Halonen (12) battles for the puck against St. Thomas on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in Houghton, Mich. (David Archambeau/For the Gazette)

SAULT STE. MARIE — When the No. 19 Michigan Tech Huskies hockey team hits the ice this weekend against the Lake Superior State Lakers, at the Taffy Abel Arena in Sault Ste. Marie, they will have one singular goal in mind: a strong push through the end of the regular season.

The Huskies and Lakers are set to start at 7:07 p.m. Friday night, and 6:07 p.m. Saturday.

The Huskies currently sit fourth in the CCHA standings with 23 points, one shy of the Bowling Green State Falcons, who sit in third.

With home ice in the conference playoffs as the end goal, head coach Joe Shawhan is pleased about where his team is at, even though there is still room for growth.

“I think, in a good way, we control our own destiny,” he said. “We have 14 league contests left. We have a good home and away schedule. So, we’re fortunate that we have a chance. “

Shawhan feels the Huskies have control over their own fortunes.

“It’s up to us to win our hockey games,” he said, “and that’s good. At this point, right now, we don’t have to rely on anybody to get where we want to get. We just have to do our job.”

The Huskies enter the second half coming off the 56th Great Lakes Invitational, where they tied the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines, 0-0, on Dec. 29, 2021, and followed that effort up with a 3-2 loss in overtime the next night against the Michigan State Spartans.

Shawhan felt that, while the team did play well in stretches, there is still a lot of room for growth.

“I think when you watched it, you saw a lot about our team,” said Shawhan. “(There are) still a lot of habits that are needed to create consistent offense (that) aren’t ingrained within our players naturally.”

Shawhan felt the Huskies (10-8-1 overall, 7-5 CCHA) closed out most of the 2021 portion of the schedule the right way, but the break before the GLI seemed to allow some old concerns to appear again.

“We were clicking pretty well going into the break for the most part,” he said. “The break kind of got us back into kind of who we are. It’s not ingrained enough.”

While the Huskies could not find the back of the net against the Wolverines’ Erik Portillo, they did get two against the Spartans’ Drew DeRidder, one each in the second and third periods. However, another old nemesis raised its ugly head again.

“I thought we played really well,” said Shawhan. ‘We got better, especially after the first period, against Michigan State. I thought we found our identity a little bit and I thought we played well against Michigan State, absolutely well enough to have success in the game, and then got bit by another overtime.”

The Huskies, as Shawhan puts it, are still learning what it takes to win in overtime. Given that the 3-on-3 overtime sessions allow teams to ice their three most talented players at the same time with extra space on the ice, the overtime comes down to puck possession. Shawhan and his staff continue to work with the team to build better habits in puck battles, no matter the situation in the game.

“There’s no quick fix,” he said. “There’s no systems…you just keep working at (it). Every drill helps. One-on-one-type play, every drill you’re doing practice helps one-on-one-type play. If there’s anything, I think our guys need to pay more attention to that, because it’ll help in every part of our game.”

Pietila, Misiak and Ashbrook developing

When asked about who he felt stood out in the first half of the season, Shawhan was quick to point out senior winger Brian Halonen and co-captain Trenton Bliss, both of whom have 15 or more points in 18 or more games this season to lead the team in scoring. The duo has spent much of the season together to this point, giving the Huskies a top line that can compete with every opponents’ top group night in and night out.

Along with the senior leadership, three more players that have caught Shawhan’s eye are developing into a second scoring line for the Huskies. Junior center Logan Pietila, who is flanked by senior winger Justin Misiak on one side and junior winger Tristan Ashbrook on the other, has bounced back in a big way in 2021-22. 

After scoring eight goals and 20 points as a freshman, Pietila followed that effort up with just four assists in 28 games as a sophomore. Shawhan felt that he got away from the things that made him a successful player last season, and is happy to see him getting rewarded for putting in the effort to fix that this season.

“He’s gained his confidence back,” Shawhan said. “Where he wasn’t around the puck enough last year, he’s around the puck all the time.”

Shawhan likes the chemistry that is rapidly developing between Pietila and Misiak.

“He and Misiak are working well off each other on the forecheck, creating offensive opportunity,” said Shawhan. “They have a lot of possession time in the zone. They’re constantly, one of them is constantly, going after the puck. It’s equating to scoring chances for them.”

Having a streaky scorer on the other side in Ashbrook has worked out well for Pietila and Misiak. Ashbrook, according to Shawhan, is still learning a lot about playing a full, 200-foot game.

“A lot of the offensive production still relies on Tristan and Tristan is still learning how to be consistent every game, contributing every game.”

Shawhan likes how hard Ashbrook is working to improve his game, something that he feels is a result of working alongside Misiak and Pietila.

“He has his games where he’s  really involved, and he still has games where he’s not as involved. He has practices that are the same. As he develops consistency within his game, and accountability within his game, as he continues to grow in that area, that line will continue to grow and will continue to get better.”

Facing the Lakers again

This weekend, face the Lakers on the road. The Lakers come into the weekend 11-12-1 on the season and 7-9-0 in CCHA play, good for fifth in the conference, just three points back of the Huskies. The Lakers are coached by former Huskies assistant Damon Whitten, and Shawhan feels that every matchup with Lake Superior is worth watching.

“It’ll be a good series, always is, and every one of our games is the same,” he said. “It’ll be a close game. It should be one or two goals either way.”

The Lakers come home this weekend after struggling to find the net against Bemidji State. The Beavers won both games last weekend, 5-1, but Shawhan feels that the scores were not indicative of where the Lakers are at.

“They’re a good hockey team,” he said. “They had a 30-day layoff, or something like that, where they hadn’t played before (they) went and had to travel and go play in Bemidji. So, that’s a tall order. Bemidji can score. They could score. They generate offense, but they also can score. Lake State had some chances as well, when the games were tight, to score and weren’t able to so.

“They beat some very good teams. They played Michigan tough. They had a (4-2) lead at Michigan, and lost 7-4. So, they’re a good hockey team.”

The Lakers are led by junior forward Louis Boudon, who has team-highs in goals (11) and points (27). Senior forward Miroslav Mucha has also been strong, racking up 14 assists and 19 points.

On the back end, the Lakers feature sophomore Jacob Bengtsson, who has two goals and 20 points, and senior Jacob Nordqvist, who has four goals and 12 points. They also landed junior Jake Willets via transfer from Ferris State. He has struggled to score in the first half of the season, with just two goals and five points, but as a freshman, he put up three goals and 22 points with the Bulldogs.

In goal, sophomore Ethan Langenegger and junior Seth Eisele have split time this season. Langenegger is 6-8-1 in 15 starts with a 2.94 goals against average and a .907 save percentage. Eisele is 5-4 in 10 appearances with a 3.11 goals against average and a .902 save percentage.


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