Huskies’ season ends with shutout loss
ALLENTOWN, Penn. — The No. 13 Michigan Tech Huskies hockey team came into the season with nearly no expectations. Of all the teams in the CCHA, they lost the most offense to graduation. They were picked to finish fifth by the league coaches.
Their season ended Friday night at the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in their opening game of the NCAA Tournament.
The Huskies, who were playing in their second straight regional tournament, never looked comfortable in their own skin in an 8-0 loss to the No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions.
“I don’t think you saw our team,” said Huskies coach Joe Shawhan. “I was worried all year about our team. We just kept handling adversity and we just kept winning hockey games. We never lost two in a row. But, I was worried all summer long about the makeup (of this team) and how we would handle adversity. I don’t think we handled it very well tonight.”
The Nittany Lions, who had a similar break to the Huskies in that they lost to the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten quarterfinals, came out with a game plan to drive the pace of the game Friday, and the Huskies struggled to match the intensity that came at them in waves.
“They (the Nittany Lions) obviously played a tremendous hockey game,” said Shawhan. “They were fast, strong on the puck. I thought they competed hard.
“We had a little bit of push back, but not very hard. I think we made it very easy on them.”
The Huskies, who have not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1981, came into Friday night’s game having gone 24-10-4 on the year. They had not lost twice in a row all season, and found ways to win several games that, early in the season, they seemed to be destined to lose, on paper.
“Our guys gave it all year long,” Shawhan said. “They found ways to overcome adversity. We had trouble doing that tonight. Hopefully we learned some lessons from that.”
The type of adversity Shawhan was referring to happened on the game’s opening goal. Penn State’s Tyler Paquette took a long stretch pass from Jarod Crespo and he chipped the puck past Huskies senior defender Ryan O’Connell. O’Connell battled for position with Paquette right up until he ran into the linesman, and then he fell out of the battle, and Paquette was able to retrieve the puck, and then score on a wraparound that hit O’Connell’s senior defensive partner Chris Lipe’s stick and got past goaltender Blake Pietila just 2:12 into the contest.
It took the Huskies over 10 minutes to recover and start to put pressure on the Nittany Lions’ defense, but when they did, freshman winger Kyle Kukkonen found himself with a pair of good scoring opportunities. The first came off a pass from co-captain Logan Pietila that was originally intended for alternate captain Ryland Mosley, but ended up instead on Kukkonen’s stick in the slot. He fired a wrister that Nittany Lions goaltender Liam Souliere held on to.
Kukkonen had another quality scoring chance on his next shift when he stole a rebound in his own end, blew around a Penn State defender, skated in alone and fired a wrist shot that Souliere had to reach out and grab with his glove.
With the game still 1-0 just over four minutes into the second period, Crespo extended the Nittany Lions lead with a wrist shot at 4:34 when he beat Blake Pietila from the left circle on a rush.
The Huskies had three looks over a minute span that included shots from co-captain Arvid Caderoth, senior forward Logan Ganie, and junior winger Jack Works, but could not find a way to solve Souliere.
“It was a tough game from the start for us,” said Caderoth. “We were talking about winning every shift when they started scoring a lot of goals. We were trying to win every shift, every five minutes, but it was a tough game for us.”
Ashton Calder put the game out of reach for the Huskies at 14:46 when he took a lead pass behind the Michigan Tech defense, skated in alone and beat Blake Pietila on a deke to his backhand. Just 3:59 later, Christian Berger scored from the left circle to make it 4-0 heading into the second intermission.
From there, the proverbial wheels came off the Huskies’ bus. Kevin Wall scored just 3:02 into the third period right off a faceoff to Blake Pietila’s right where a Huskies defender in front of the net got out-battled for a puck.
“We didn’t pick up well on the rush,” said Shawhan. “We didn’t box out well in front of the net.”
Chase McLean then made it 6-0 Penn State when he got to a loose puck in the right corner and threw the puck back at the net, hitting Blake Pietila’s head and then finding the net at 7:31.
Connor McMenamin and Ryan Kirwan scored 33 seconds apart to give Penn State an 8-0 lead.
Blake Pietila made 32 saves in the loss.
‘A hollow feeling’
The Huskies found ways throughout the season to be successful, and Shawhan credits a lot of that success to his senior netminder, Blake Pietila. Pietila set school records for shutouts in a season (10) and career (20), while tying Bruce Horsch’s career win total of 58. Pietila also earned All-CCHA First Team honors as well as Goaltender of the Year and Player of the Year.
However, he surrendered 12 goals over his final two collegiate games. It was not all his fault, by any means.
After the loss, Shawhan was disappointed that the team in front of Pietila struggled to create offense while also playing sound defense in the way they had throughout the season.
“We’ve got great goaltending,” he said. “That gave guys confidence. There was always tomorrow. My concern…with this group, was just that ‘it’ factor.
“I was worried this would happen in November, in December, and our guys just kept being resilient.”
Shawhan went on to discuss how he felt watching the team struggle against the Nittany Lions.
“It was a hollow feeling, with feeling in some ways, with some individuals, how much did you really impact their lives,” he said. “That’s the hollow feeling, ending this way. This is the most embarrassed I’ve been in a hockey game, ever.”
Shawhan did try to pull Pietila from the game as things went south, but the senior chose not to exit the contest.
“I told him I love him,” Shawhan said. “He’s been us.
“I was talking to (CCHA) commissioner Don Lucia before the game, and he said your best player has to show up. I think he did show up. I didn’t think he got a tremendous amount of support in a lot of areas.”
MTU 0 0 0 – 0
PSU 1 3 4 – 8
1, PSU, Tyler Paquette (Jarod Crespo, Jimmy Dowd, Jr.), 2:12.
2, PSU, Crespo (Carter Schade), 4:34; 3, PSU, Ashton Calder (Simon Mack, Ture Linden), 14:46; 4, PSU, Christian Berger (Ryan Kirwan, Xander Lamppa), 18:45.
5, PSU, Kevin Wall (Connor MacEachern, Schade), 3:02; 6, PSU, Chase McLean (Dowd, Jr., Mack), 7:31; 7, PSU Connor McMenamin (MacEachern, Paul DeNaples), 14:20; 8, PSU, Kirwan (Wall), 14:53.
Saves – Pietila, MTU: 10-11-11=32; Souliere, PSU: 7-13-4=24
Power plays – MTU: 0/1; PSU: 0/0
Penalties – MTU: 1/2; PSU: 2/4