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Carnival atmosphere: Huskies hockey faces Mavericks for key series

Michigan Tech center Arvid Caderoth (20), Ryland Mosley (11), Matthew Campbell (15), Max Koskipirtti (14) and Kash Rasmussen (12) celebrate a power play goal by Caderoth in the first period of a game against Northern Michigan Saturday at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton. (David Archambeau/For the Gazette)

HOUGHTON — With just six games left in the regular season, and four left at home, the Michigan Tech Huskies hockey team is still in the chase for everything from a home playoff spot to the CCHA regular season title. At 11-12-6 overall and 8-8-2 in CCHA play heading into Winter Carnival weekend, the Huskies are tied with Bemidji State for fourth in the standings, seven points behind the St. Thomas Tommies, who sit atop the conference standings.

The path is not going to be easy. The Huskies host Minnesota State this weekend. The Mavericks sit second in the CCHA standings, just two points behind the Tommies. Following this weekend, the Huskies travel to Bowling Green State and then return home for a final home series against the Tommies at the beginning of March.

At the same time, the Huskies are going to need to find success without three key consistent members of the starting lineup in sophomore winger Kyle Kukkonen, sophomore defenseman Lachlan Getz, and junior forward Austen Swankler.

But, before any discussion of the roster can be had, coach Joe Shawhan admits that he and his staff have other concerns, mainly with how focused the Huskies play. He feels that the team pays better attention to the details that bring them success when they are chasing a game, and less attention when they hold a lead.

This came to a head last Saturday in a tie with Northern Michigan, where the Huskies led 3-2 late, but after an icing, the Huskies lost the ensuing faceoff and soon gave up the game-tying goal.

Michigan Tech students from the cheering section known as the “Mitch’s Misfits” celebrate a goal scored by the Huskies during game against Northern Michigan Saturday at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton. (David Archambeau/For the Gazette)

“I think our biggest deal, again, is we play better when we’re chasing the game than we do when we’re playing with a lead,” he said. “We have to work on trying to always have the mentality of enjoying the chase of the game.”

On Friday night, after the Huskies gave up three goals in the first 28:01 to the Wildcats, the Huskies put on a push that saw them outshoot Northern Michigan 15-6 over the final 32 minutes of play. The two teams split goals, but Shawhan liked a lot of what he saw from his team.

Saturday night, the Huskies held two different one-goal leads, but especially in the final 20 minutes, he did not like a lot of what he saw from his team.

“I think a lot of it with us is mindset,” Shawhan said. “So, we just have to keep trying to introduce situations that help guys get better. Our job is just trying to help guys get better. It’s a tough gig.”

Shawhan and his staff are still searching for ways to help recreate those moments in practice, so that the team can work its way through this issue. However, that is easier said than done.

“I think the thing with us is in how we handle the intensity of the moment, and that’s hard to set up and practice a situation where you’re winning or you’re losing,” he said. “The only thing that we can do is keep getting those situations in the game, and try to improve in those situations. We get them every game. We’re either ahead by a little bit, or chasing it by a little bit. So, that’s the only way we can do it. If we can help the guys figure that out, it’ll be a good life lesson.”

Injuries are creeping into the situation for the Huskies as well. While Kukkonen has been out for a couple of weeks already, Getz went down to injury on Friday and Swankler did not finish Saturday’s contest.

In the case of Swankler, Shawhan said that he was already injured before he arrived on campus in December, but had been trying to play his way through it.

“He’s been trying to play through it,” Shawhan said, “and I give him credit for that. I’ve enjoyed him being here with the group, but it looks like he’s been hurt since before he came.

“He tried to play through it, but there comes a point. He was trying to protect it a little bit. There comes a point when you have to say, ‘Hey, listen, man, what’s going on with you is more important. Let’s get this. Let’s find out what’s going on.'”

With two key offensive players in Kukkonen and Swankler out, the Huskies are in a similar position to where the Mavericks were when the two teams faced each other earlier this season in Mankato, Minnesota. The Mavericks played that series without fifth-year forward Lucas Sowder. The Huskies won both games that weekend, 3-2 in overtime Friday, and 3-2 in regulation on Saturday.

SCOUTING THE MAVERICKS

The Mavericks, who went through a number of changes in the offseason, including losing coach Mike Hastings to Wisconsin, have found a way to have some success this season. They are 14-10-4 overall and 10-6-2 in CCHA play. They split with the Tommies last weekend, winning Friday in overtime, 4-3, and losing Saturday, 4-2.

Fifth-year forward Sam Morton leads the team in scoring with 19 goals and 28 points in 28 games. Freshman defenseman Evan Murr is a candidate for CCHA Rookie of the Year. He has a team-high 15 assists and 20 points in 28 games.

In goal, sophomore Alex Tracy has grown into the starting netminder. He has made 23 appearances, starting 21 games. He has a 10-7-4 record with two shutouts. He sports a 2.37 goals against average and a .911 save percentage.

GAME TIMES

The Huskies and Mavericks will face off on Friday night at 7:07 p.m. at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena. Saturday, the two opponents will be back at it at 5:07 p.m. to finish Winter Carnival weekend.

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