Series Preview: Michigan Tech @ Michigan State

Michigan Tech (3-5-2) enters November on a high note having swept rival Northern Michigan in a home-and-home series last weekend. The major storyline this week revolves around Angus “Beef” Redmond, the Huskies’ freshman goaltender from Langley, British Columbia. The coaching staff clearly wanted to take a chance in net this weekend after disappointing performances by both Devin Kero and Matt Wintjes during October. If Michigan Tech has solved their goaltending issue, this can be a scary team the rest of the season. The Huskies will travel to East Lansing to face the Michigan State Spartans (1-4-0) for a pair of games this weekend.

Tyler Heinonen provides support to Mat Roy entering the offensive zone against Michigan State during a game in East Lansing on Nov. 22, 2015. (Photo credit: Ryan Johnson)

Tyler Heinonen provides support to Mat Roy entering the offensive zone against Michigan State during a game in East Lansing on Nov. 22, 2015. (Photo credit: Ryan Johnson)

Scouting Report

The Spartans are coming off their first victory of the year against a poor Princeton team. Michigan State has not been particularly good in recent years due to their constant struggles to find scoring. The one thing they had been able to rely upon was star goaltender Jake Hildebrand. Now that he has graduated, they will look to Ed Minney (Jr.) to try to fill those enormous shoes. To make matters worse, the Spartans also lost their two best players from the 2015-2016 season in forwards Mackenzie MacEachern and Michael Ferrantino. This is a young team (10 new skaters have joined the squad) that has not shown much of an ability to find the net until Friday’s 6-2 win over the Tigers. Whether that was a step in the right direction or simply a fluke remains to be seen. The Huskies and Spartans faced each other three times last year, with Michigan Tech going 2-0-1 and the most recent game resulting in an overtime victory for Tech in the semifinals of the GLI. The Huskies can expect to see a team with the same issues in scoring and team defense, except without the three stars that made Michigan State mildly competitive in previous years. On paper, this is not an even matchup.

Michigan Tech just played what was clearly their best weekend of the season thus far, and will hope to carry this momentum into what is their easiest month of their schedule. One interesting note from last weekend was that all seven goals came off the stick of seven different players. I said last week in this space that I thought the Huskies needed their best players to step up and take over games. While I still think that is true on some level, this kind of offensive balance has been their mantra all year, so it is worth wondering whether it may actually be sustained. If so, this gives Tech depth that is not common across the league and certainly not in the WCHA. The other big takeaway I have from the weekend was the effectiveness of the special teams units. Six of the seven goals were scored either on the power play or on the penalty kill. Effective special teams scoring often comes down to how much effort is being put forth, so this is a good sign for the Huskies moving forward.

Keys to the Game

  1. Continue to out shoot the opponent. This has been Michigan Tech’s best path to victory. They are 1-4 when outshot, with their only win being Saturday against Northern Michigan, and although that is a small sample size, it lends to the idea that Tech’s lack of stars means that their offense is going to need volume to be productive. Facing a young goaltender who has not yet found a lot of success in his career means that getting to him early and often is the way to win games this weekend.
  2. Build momentum into the rest of the month. After this weekend the Huskies face Lake Superior State at home and then head up north for two weeks to play each Alaska school twice. Tech should realistically expect to win each of these games. They need to use this weekend to continue to establish a nice rhythm as the following six games will go a long way in determining where they finish in the WCHA standings.
  3. Rally around the Beef! This is as much a key for Head Coach Mel Pearson as it is for the rest of the team. Redmond is going to start for this team for the time being, so the coaches and players need to find ways to build their game around him. He is exceptional at playing the puck, so utilizing that as well as giving him strong defensive zone protection as he continues to come into his own is going to be important. Michigan Tech has thrived in a one-goalie system for a number of years now, and Beef is the most likely goalie on this team to be able to shoulder that load.

My Prediction

Michigan Tech is finally playing consistent, disciplined hockey after a rough first couple of weeks. With the rust shaken off and a goalie that the team seems to be able to trust, this team is ready to go on a roll. Michigan State simply does not have the same level of talent that the Huskies do, and seemingly has no areas of strength that they can take advantage of this weekend. While playing on the road may make the games somewhat tighter, anything less than two victories would be a great disappointment. Michigan Tech wins 4-2 on Friday and 3-1 on Saturday. Both games start at 7:00 PM ET.