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No. 18 Michigan Tech returns to action against Bemidji State

Michigan Tech senior forward Alec Broetzman (29) tries to control the puck in front of St. Thomas goaltender Jacob Berger on Saturdya, Dec. 11, 2021, in Houghton, Mich. (David Archambeau/For the Gazette)

HOUGHTON — While their weekend home-and-home series with the then-No. 19 Northern Michigan Wildcats was postponed until February, the No. 18 Michigan Tech Huskies’ position in the polls changed, both positively and negatively.

The Huskies fell in the USCHO Division I Poll from No. 17, but simultaneously, they moved up in the Pairwise Rankings to a tie with Ohio State for No. 9, moving ahead of other regional opponents such as No. 11 Minnesota, No. 12 Notre Dame and No. 13 North Dakota in the process.

For head coach Joe Shawhan, and the Huskies, being positioned in the Top 10 in the Pairwise is a testament to the fact that the Huskies have taken five of their eight losses to overtime.

This weekend, the Huskies are back in action, facing one of the two teams ahead of them in the CCHA standings. The Huskies (12-8-1, 9-5 CCHA) play, which puts them, with their 29 points, just five behind the Bemidji State Beavers, who have played four more conference games than the Huskies.

The Huskies and Beavers are set for opening puck drop at 7:07 p.m. Friday and 6:07 p.m. Saturday.

Beavers look to rebound from tough weekend

The Beavers (13-13 overall, 11-7 CCHA) enter the weekend having dropped both games last weekend to the Ferris State Bulldogs at home, 2-1 and 5-2. The Beavers played the weekend without head coach Tom Serratore at the helm.

While the results might surprise college hockey fans, Shawhan felt that the Bulldogs earned both wins.

“Ferris looked tremendous on the weekend,” he said. “They looked fast, creative. I don’t think it’s Bemidji played poorly, I think Ferris played very well. 

“The first game could have gone either way. The second game, Ferris was opportunistic on their scoring.”

Shawhan was also quick to point out that Bulldogs coach Bob Daniels had his team ready to take the game to the Beavers.

The Huskies host the Beavers this weekend, and while the chance to move up the CCHA standings at home is exciting for the fans and the players, Shawhan feels that he is not sure it is an advantage at this point.

“We play well on the road, though, and they play well on the road, so I don’t know the level of the advantage,” he said. “I think they’re a better road team than a home team, or at least as good on the road as they are at home, record-wise. It’s always nice to play here, though, and we’ll see if that’s an advantage for us.”

Sillinger brothers drive Beavers’ offense

The Beavers boast one of the best forward lines in the conference in seniors Owen Sillinger and Alex Ierullo and sophomore Lukas Sillinger. The Sillinger brothers, who are the older brothers of Columbus Blue Jackets center Cole Sillinger, have 21 goals and 56 points combined this season.

Shawhan feels the brothers have a number of traits that coaches look for when building a roster that makes them a successful duo.

“First of all, they have chemistry,” said Shawhan. “Then you put Ierullo with them and they’re dynamic on the rush. They’re good in the offensive zone. They have vision. They do everything while they play a 200-foot game. 

“So, they create offense in any way you can really create offense.” 

Owen has become one of the top faceoff men in the country.

“Owen, he’s taken more faceoffs than any center in the  league. I believe he’s leading the league, or maybe even leading the country, in faceoff percentage.”

The trio plays very crucial roles for the Beavers in a variety of situations.

“They’re complete, power play, penalty kill, out in the last minute of the game, whether they’re ahead or behind,” Shawhan said. “They do everything for them, so you have to be aware of them every time they’re on the ice. (They’re) dynamic on the powerplay. Going into last weekend, they were just ahead of us, nationally. They were third in the country and then Ferris had some success against them, so they dropped to fourth in the country on power plays. 

“We always know their penalty killers well, and those guys are a part of that penalty kill unit as well.”

Attention to detail

Serratore, whose team always plays a tough schedule that includes Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, and St. Cloud State, due to their proximity to all three schools, always has his teams built around playing the game, “the right way,” as opposing coaches refer to it.

“They’re detail oriented, and they get buy in,” said Shawhan. “They pay attention to details. They do some unique things because of that. They use the entire ice in all situations. Their side-to-side through the neutral zone or they spread the offensive zone. 

“They’re always good defensively, which starts from the penalty kill and then works on out. They’re still playing the North Dakota’s and playing these other teams because they’re in proximity. To compete with them, you have to try to do things a little better as far as detail. So, he developed himself as a coach within that.”

Huskies look to match success

In November, the Huskies traveled to Bemidji and dropped a 4-3 decision on Friday, Nov. 19, before bouncing back with a 4-3 win on Saturday. 

Shawhan said there is a very simple gameplan necessary to repeat their success from the Saturday game of that weekend.

“You have to score goals,” he said. “I mean, you have to score goals, because they’re going to score goals. They got seven on the weekend against us. We got seven on the weekend against them. They’re going to score goals, so you have to score goals. That’s really what I think it comes down to. Defend the best that you can, and then take advantage of opportunities.”

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