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Huskies hockey searching for more offense as they face Wildcats

Michigan Tech’s Lachlan Getz (10), Ryland Mosley (11), Tyrone Bronte (5), and Jed Pietila (25) celebrate a goal from Kash Rasmussen (12) during a game Saturday against Bowling Green State at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton. (David Archambeau/For the Gazette)

HOUGHTON — With a 2-1 loss in overtime on Friday and a 3-2 win on Saturday, the Michigan Tech Huskies hockey team earned four points in CCHA play in a split with the visiting Bowling Green State Falcons. The two games themselves were very different in that Friday’s contest was a real grind, especially for the Huskies, and Saturday was more of an open game where skill could make a difference and it did when freshman winger Isaac Gordon got a stick on a shot from senior winger Tyrone Bronte, which became the game-winning goal.

“Bowling Green is a pretty good team,” said Huskies coach Joe Shawhan. “Friday. I didn’t think either team played with much skill, but Saturday, I certainly saw their skill level, their skill set, and then we played with more skill, made more plays on Saturday, as well. So, we’re happy.”

Shawhan is trying to keep everything in perspective. The Huskies are relying on a number of young players in key roster spots, and so there is still a lot of room for the team to grow.

“We still have to keep things in perspective here as to how young we are, and what we are,” he said. “I’m very happy with the guys.”

One issue the Huskies are still trying to sort through is the ability to close out games. The most obvious time this cost the Huskies was in a 6-4 loss on Saturday, Nov. 11, against Bemidji State, where the Huskies had a 4-0 lead and surrendered the next six goals. Against Minnesota State on Friday, Nov. 24, they had a 2-0 lead and let the Mavericks back in. Again, Saturday night against the Falcons, the Huskies had a 2-0 lead and let the Falcons even things up.

However, the Huskies had a very solid third period Saturday night, so they are showing signs of learning from earlier performances.

“We give up, even Saturday, we get a two-goal lead, then all of a sudden, call it panic, call it what you want, whatever, sets in,” Shawhan said. “That happened with a four-goal lead in Bemidji, they come back, and we didn’t plug the hole.

“(We) were able to on Saturday get it back, and then come out with that win.”

Adding a bit more offense to the mix would help, according to assistant coach Tyler Shelast.

“We have the ability in here,” said Shelast. “We have the ability to take over games. The next level is, obviously, the scoring. We’ve had it in spurts. I think the next level for us is finding ways to take (a) 2-0 (lead) against Bowling Green, take the next step, and make it 3-0, instead of giving up two goals really quick.

“Because, ultimately, a 2-0 game to a 3-0 game to a 4-0 game means more wins.”

One place the Huskies can look to internally for more scoring is from sophomore winger Kyle Kukkonen, who is still searching for his first goal of the season 17 games in after scoring 18 as a freshman.

Shawhan feels that Kukkonen is close, citing the three shots and multiple other opportunities he had in Saturday’s win. Shawhan believes that once one finally does go in, several more could be on the horizon.

Kukkonen has not had a stretch like this in his career, according to Shawhan. However, his coaches feel that he is capable of transitioning out of it if he keeps working hard. Shelast, who went through stretches like this himself, assistant coach Jordy Murray, and assistant coach Alec Broetzman are trying to find ways to help him get over the proverbial hump.

“If you look at how his goals were scored last year, (he scored) a lot of very dynamic individual shooting type goals, and then soft-area goals where he was getting into an area essentially in a slot and shooting,” said Shelast.

The last two weeks, Shelast and Kukkonen have been in contact a lot as he has tried to help the second year sniper find his scoring touch. The two are using video to try to help sort some things out.

“So my message to him is, ‘OK, if this is how you’re generating goals, and that’s how you’ve scored a lot of goals,’ like in junior, he was a bumper guy in the power play, then it’s just kind of, ‘OK, let’s get you into those areas more. Let’s get you consistently understanding that maybe in this clip you’re drifting outside of an offensive opportunity,'” Shelast said. “When we can kind of get him to think in that capacity, what he’s going to do, he’s going to find himself in a better spot more times than not. That’s going to lead to not only more opportunities, but goals at the same time.”

Shawhan believes that this approach is useful to many members of the team.

“I think the biggest thing with us is that we just got to help guys remove the barriers that limit them,” he said. “We believe that we have talent. We believe that we have guys that are good hockey players.”

SCOUTING THE WILDCATS

The Huskies and Northern Michigan Wildcats are set to play a home-and-home series this weekend. The Wildcats are 6-8-2 overall and 4-4 in CCHA play, so they find themselves in much the same boat as the Huskies. They are coming into the weekend off a shootout loss and a regulation loss to Augustana last weekend, but they are always dangerous. They feature an excellent power play at 24.3%, and they are a threat shorthanded as well.

Fifth-year forward Andre Ghantous leads the team with six goals and 20 points in 16 games. Senior forward Artem Shlaine has also been good, scoring six goals and 14 points. Senior forward Kristoff Papp is also racking up assists as he has 10 and has 14 points as well.

In goal, sophomore Beni Halasz has not been as good as his freshman year so far, going 3-5-2 in 11 starts with a 3.39 goals against average and a .895 save percentage, but he is capable of turning those numbers around very quickly.

GAME TIMES

The Huskies and Wildcats will face off Friday night at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena at 7:07 p.m. Friday night in Houghton. Saturday, the U.P. rivals will face each other at the Berry Events Center in Marquette at 6:07 p.m.

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