Series Preview: Michigan Tech @ Bowling Green

Michigan Tech (10-7-3) heads to Bowling Green, Ohio to unofficially end the first half of the season. The Huskies will be met by a Bowling Green State (8-8-2) team whose record hides how strongly they have been performing of late. MTU is playing strong hockey as well, having played WCHA-leader Bemidji State to a split that was as evenly-matched as we have seen all year. This should be another exciting weekend for Huskies fans before they have a couple weekends off until the GLI and their date with Michigan on Dec. 29.

Scouting Report

For Michigan Tech, this season has been split in two: games before Angus Redmond became the starter (1-5-2) and games after (9-2-1). The only thing that has stayed consistent for the Huskies, strangely, has been their ability to play much better on Saturday than on Friday. Against Michigan, Michigan State and now Bemidji State, MTU took a loss on Friday and followed it up with a strong effort the next night that resulted in two wins and a tie.

Teams take warmups during the 2014 MTU@BGSU playoff series (Photo credit: Chris Valliere).

Teams take warmups during the 2014 MTU@BGSU playoff series (Photo credit: Chris Valliere).

Against the Beavers on Friday, the Huskies did not have a large shot advantage like they had enjoyed in most of their recent games, instead only holding a 27-25 edge. On Saturday, Michigan Tech controlled play with a 34-18 advantage, most notably in the third period where they took 13 shots to BSU’s 3. While both teams definitely had a chance to win both nights, for whatever reason the Huskies seem to be a step faster and getting a few more bounces on Saturday night. It is still likely that this is completely coincidental, but MTU really needs to kick the habit because they can no longer afford going into Saturday looking to salvage a split instead of finishing out a sweep. One good sign from this weekend was Tech’s ability to limit the penalties. It seems like that issue from early on in the year has mostly been solved, and the weekend in Fairbanks was simply an outlier.

Bowling Green, after starting the year 0-6-1, is on an 8-2-1 run. Their schedule played out similar to Michigan Tech’s. They got beat soundly by their non-conference opponents and then finally started to figure things out against a soft WCHA schedule. BGSU neither scores nor prevents goals at anything but a middling rate; they're 21st in the nation in scoring and 30th in the nation in defense. Their attack is centered around Mitchell McLain (Jr., F) who, with ten goals, leads the team by a wide margin and is 13th in the nation in that category. He has scored two power play goals and two short-handed, so MTU’s defensemen need to be aware every time he is on the ice, regardless of the situation.

Beyond McLain, the Falcons have some scoring depth with six other skaters with double digit points and eight other skaters with four or more goals. Unlike Michigan Tech, Bowling Green’s run the last two months was not sparked by goaltending. Netminders have been the Falcons’ greatest weakness. Their starting goaltender is junior Chris Nell, but his uninspiring play has recently given freshman Ryan Bednard playing time as well. Neither has played particularly well, both sporting save percentages well below .900. They both have a goals against average between 2.55-2.65, which shows that the key to BGSU winning games even without strong goaltending is that their opponents are getting very few shots. They are 7-4-2 when out-shooting their opponent and 1-4-0 when being outshot, so like Tech, they are used to having the advantage in that category.

Keys to the Game

  1. Take advantage of weak goaltending. After a weekend against the elite Michael Bitzer (Jr., G - BSU), the Huskies should have a much easier time finding the net regardless of who the Falcons roll out. I get the feeling that this weekend will come down to whether or not MTU can establish a consistent shots advantage because the biggest difference between the two teams is in the net.
  2. Use their speed to exploit Bowling Green’s young D core. Five of the Falcons’ seven everyday defensemen are either freshmen or sophomores. Pressuring these young players could be the key to establishing the offensive zone time necessary to beat the Falcons.
  3. Find a way to establish themselves as a clear top-two team in the WCHA. One of Michigan Tech’s biggest problems this year has been closing out sweeps against anyone besides three of the four worst teams in the conference. This is a great opportunity to earn bonus points in the Pairwise for road wins and a chance to distance themselves further from the middle tier in the WCHA. That can only happen if they head home for Christmas with six points.

My Prediction

Michigan Tech just battled an evenly-matched Bemidji State team to a hard-fought split. Bowling Green is a level below the Beavers, so MTU should find that they will have more time and space this weekend, especially in the neutral zone. If they play at the same level as they did last weekend, they should treat the fans to an early Christmas. This series being played in Bowling Green gives me some pause, but the Falcons are only 2-2-2 at home this season. I am going to take the hot Huskies over the hot Falcons this weekend. 3-2 on Friday, 5-1 on Saturday. Puck drop both nights is at 7:07pm ET.