Well, the Huskies proved me wrong. Last week, I said that I did not trust Michigan Tech (6-6-2) because of their inconsistency and was instead putting my eggs in the Lake State basket. MTU came out from the drop of the puck and took it to the Lakers for a weekend-long drubbing that ended with an aggregate score of 10-3. They have now quietly won five of their last six, and are 6-2-2 since their 0-4 road trip to Duluth and Mankato. This one weekend here isn’t enough to alleviate every concern I have, but the Huskies addressed a number of the issues that had cost them victories the last couple weeks, namely special teams and Friday night letdowns. We will see if they can continue to improve as they head to Alaska for two weekends, starting with a pair of games at Sullivan Arena against Alaska-Anchorage (1-9-0).
Michigan Tech is coming off of their most impressive weekend of the year. There are a few facets that you should look for this weekend against the Seawolves, starting with special teams. The Huskies had their best weekend of the year on special teams, scoring three power play goals and posting a perfect 11-for-11 on the kill. Whether this is a result of LSSU’s mediocre PP (36th in the country) or MTU taking great strides in improving a major weakness remains to be seen. This weekend, the Huskies face one of the worst power plays in the nation which is only 4/53 on the season. Ideally, Michigan Tech will continue last weekend’s perfect kill rate and keep UAA off the board.
Also, pay attention to what Head Coach Mel Pearson does with his goaltenders this weekend. Freshman Angus Redmond has been the team’s backbone since he took over the starting job on October 28th, but if there was ever a weekend for either senior Matt Wintjes or sophomore Devin Kero to get a start, this is the one. Not only would it give us an understanding of how confident Pearson is against a team as weak as UAA, but it would also give us a glimpse at who he views is his number two goaltender right now. I would expect Redmond to play Friday night, but if the Huskies win handily, I would not be at all surprised if either Wintjes or Kero is between the pipes on Saturday.
On the other side of the ice, the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves are struggling mightily this year. It does not take much digging to see where the problem is: they simply cannot score. They are averaging an abysmal 1.19 goals per game, nearly a half goal per game worse than any other team in the nation and nearly two full goals worse than Michigan Tech’s mid-tier offense (2.96 goals per game). Looking deeper only makes it worse. UAA only has seven players who have even found the back of the net. To put that into perspective, Michigan Tech had seven different players score in just one game against Alabama-Huntsville on October 14th. The Seawolves average just under 20 shots per game, so there is not even a good argument that they have been unlucky. Simply put, this is easily the worst offensive team in the country, and probably the worst team in the country overall. If there is one bright spot on this Seawolves squad, it comes in the form of junior goaltender Oliver Mantha. He has managed to keep a save percentage at .907 and a goals against average of 3.24, both of which are more than respectable when playing behind a team like this. The starter since he matriculated at UAA, the Quebec native has been incredibly consistent over the last two-plus years, posting similar full-season numbers to those that he has currently. Mantha is coming off of his best game of the year, a 3-1 loss to Penn State where he made 53 saves and only allowed two goals. The Seawolves' only win this year was a 1-0 decision against Canisius. If they are to win a game this weekend, another shutout from Mantha might be the only way that occurs.
Keys to the Game
- Remember last year. Usually a short memory is good in sports, but this year I think MTU would do well to not forget that the Seawolves came into Houghton and swept the Huskies. That weekend was a major reason that Tech were not really in the hunt for an at large bid. Use that as fuel after the long trip and four-hour time change to come out fast and stomp on UAA.
- Keep the Seawolves’ offense down. Being dead last in the nation in scoring is a recipe for losing, and Anchorage is certainly cooking. Last weekend, Penn State scored in the first period both nights en route to sweeping, and it really did seem as though the Seawolves had little fight, totaling only 40 shots over the two games. While playing at home may keep UAA more engaged throughout the game, an early lead and an empty Seawolves scoresheet in the first period will be Michigan Tech’s easiest path to victory.
- Win. This is obvious, but MTU simply cannot have a letdown over the next two weeks. The Huskies can still find themselves in the national discussion at the end of the year because five of their six losses came to elite teams that are likely to be in the top third of the pairwise throughout the season. If Michigan Tech is going to contend for anything but an auto-bid, they really need to leave The Last Frontier with four wins.
At the risk of jinxing the Huskies, I am not going to be picking against them this week. MTU is seemingly on a roll, and they get a team who does not appear to be at all equipped to take advantage of the Huskies' potential weaknesses. Facing a truly horrendous offense plus the memories of a shocking sweep in their own barn a year ago, Michigan Tech should dismantle Alaska-Anchorage. The Huskies will sweep, going 5-0 on Friday and 4-1 on Saturday. Both games start at 11:07pm ET.