Huskies Split Two Even Games with Bemidji
The premier WCHA match-up this past weekend did not disappoint. Each game was separated by a goal (although Friday did have a late 3rd period empty-netter for Bemidji). The defensive nature of each team really locked down the ice, just waiting for the other team to make a mistake. Friday, the breaks fell in favor of Bemidji; Saturday, Michigan Tech profited.
Bemidji Earns their Bounce on Friday
The even nature of the two teams shows in nearly every statistical measure of Friday's game. The two teams were relatively even on shots on goal, penalty taking and penalty killing. This was going to be a game of breaks, and Mike Neville (Sr., F - MTU) started it out for the Huskies with a beautiful partial breakaway goal (watch below, at the 0:14 mark of the video). The Beavers answered less than a minute later on a quick pass from behind the net to the slot, which took some of the wind out of MTU's sails. Several shots for both teams were near misses, beating the respective goalie, and a handful bounced off crossbars. Each could have been the bounce to win the game. Unfortunately for the Huskies, the deciding break of the game fell in favor of the Beavers partway into the 2nd when the puck bounced over the stick of Los Angeles Kings draftee Matt Roy (Jr., D - MTU) while on the power play. Charlie Connor (Sr., F - BSU) made the play and received the short-handed assist on the game-winning goal.
Team Recovered from Alaska Road Trip
The likes of a 12 day road trip to the two Alaska schools is a difficulty no other league has to face. Travel is such a part of the WCHA schedule that the grind can wear down the top teams without question. Coming off that extended trip, the Huskies found a way to be ready and well-rested this past weekend for a high level of play each night. The level of effort on Friday was noted by many in attendance and drew post game comments from Mel Pearson and others. Angus Redmond (Fr., G - MTU) commented that, "Everybody battled really hard and looked like they were doing good," in regards to the impact of the Alaska trip.
Goalie Duels Both Nights
The two top defensive teams in the conference put up a goalie duel each night. With Angus Redmond and Michael Bitzer (Jr., G - BSU) sharing the NCAA-best 1.47 goals against average, each game was surely going to be a defensive battle. Saturday was more of the same, although Michigan Tech found more ways to get the puck to the net and own a greater share of the shot differential. Redmond only saw 18 shots on Saturday, in comparison to 25 on Friday, and allowed only one goal with :09 left in the second, making saves where needed. Michael Bitzer, for his part, stopped all but two of the 34 Michigan Tech shots on Saturday, 13 of which came in the third period. Both teams have found that only allowing one or two goals per game have given them opportunities to win. On Saturday, Michigan Tech was able to capitalize best
Chris Leibinger, the Occasional Defenseman
Chris Leibinger (Sr., F/D - MTU) started the season as a defenseman for Michigan Tech, but with the full defensive core of the Huskies was asked to skate up. Leibinger has been excelling as a forward so far this year and has 8 points on the season (6G+2A=8P) including the first MTU goal Saturday against Bemidji. His offensive success has drawn some recognition. Mel Pearson took time in his post game conference Saturday to call out Leibinger saying, "He may lead our team in scoring this year, when it's all said and done."
THG Three Stars of the Weekend
- Angus Redmond - .930 SV% (40 for 43), 1.52GA
- Mike Neville - 2 goals on the weekend including Saturday's game winner.
- Chris Leibinger - 1 goal Saturday and playing excellently in his transition to forward. Leibinger has 6G and 2A on the season.
Honorable Mention: The Copper Country community for over 3,000 in attendance on both nights this weekend. Both the Teddy Bear Toss and Food Drive were successful due to community involvement in Michigan Tech Hockey.
Michigan Tech in the National Rankings
Slow and steady movement in the national polls each week is the norm when you get this deep into the season. Tech received a few more votes (14) in the USCHO.com Division I Men's poll. Tech needs only 60+ votes now to break into the Top-20. The Huskies are sitting at #23 in the Pairwise Ranking System. Around the WCHA, Bemidji sits at #20 while Minnesota State is at #24. In the WCHA Standings, Tech is still solidly in 2nd with 30 points. Bemidji is still slightly out of reach with 38 points while Bowling Green has 23 points and two games in hand on the Huskies.
Cover photo courtesy of Bob Gilreath.