Huskies ‘maniacs’ and victors
HOUGHTON – The Michigan Tech hockey team had not hosted an opponent at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena in over a month, and the Huskies were more than eager to give the 2,590 fans who braved the bitter cold a performance worth showing up for Friday night.
In fact, they were a bit maniacal about it.
“We used a quote from (San Francisco 49ers coach) Jim Harbaugh, ‘playing like maniacs,'” Pearson said. “He doesn’t worry about getting his team ready to play because they play like maniacs … we have to play with that more per man – that hustle and desperation – and I thought we did tonight.”
Tech jumped on Western Collegiate Hockey Association opponent Bemidji State on the opening shift, with sophomore David Johnstone backhanding a tough-angle goal just 48 seconds into the game.
The Huskies (7-12-3, 4-10-3 WCHA)) rode that surge to a dominant 2-0 opening period and produced enough in the second and third frames to settle comfortably for a 4-0 victory. It was the first conference win for Tech since the Huskies swept Bemidji back in mid-November.
Blake Pietila, honored pre-game for his World Junior Championship gold medal, netted twice to round his team lead in goals to an even dozen and freshman goaltender Pheonix Copley turned away all 25 Beaver (5-12-4, 4-8-3 WCHA) shots to turn in his third shutout in five contests.
“We were ready to play,” Pearson said.
“I thought we got off to a real good start, we were aggressive on our forecheck creating a lot of turnovers and we created a lot of real good scoring opportunities.
“A big win. Any points in this league are good, it is always tough to get points.”
“That first goal was kind of a killer,” Bemidji coach Tom Serratore added. “It sets the tone for Tech and leaves a sour taste in your mouth on our bench.”
With Pietila returning from the World Juniors in Russia two weeks ago, Pearson thought some rust and fatigue were evident in the Huskies’ biggest goal threat at Minnesota Duluth last weekend.
Be it adapting to another new sleep schedule or adjusting from a USA checking forward back to a scoring role, Pietila quickly put the Duluth series behind him, burying a power play rebound with less than three minutes remaining in the opening period to give Tech a two-goal cushion.
Pietila also sniped MTU’s third goal midway through the second on a sharp wrister from the left circle to push the Huskies comfortably in front and added a primary assist on freshman Malcolm Gould’s tally in the third period.
“Like I was kidding him earlier, he didn’t score over the World Junior tournament so I wanted to make sure he knew where the net was and what to do,” Pearson said. “He is back and boy he ripped that second shot. Not many guys can shoot the puck there. … he played much better this weekend then he did last weekend.”
Pietila’s third goal came just 30 seconds after Bemidji put its biggest threat on Copley’s goal all night.
The freshmen netminder made not one, but two sprawling saves on a wide open Beaver breakaway and then did just enough to keep the puck from sliding across the goalline to keep Bemidji off the scoresheet.
After the save was confirmed by replay review, Pietila buried his snap shot and the Beavers’ hopes for a comeback.
“He made that critical save in the second period which I thought was really a pivotal point in the game,” Pearson said. “He makes a save, they get a rebound and he makes another big save and then shortly after we make it 3-0, so I thought that was a big momentum shift in the game.”
With several more applause worthy stops along the way, Copley finished with his third shutout since Dec. 29 and also turned in a grade-A one-goal performance at Duluth last Friday.
The Tech record for shutouts in a season is four, shared by Michael-Lee Teslak (2006-07) and Jim Warden (1974-75).
“I am just playing with more confidence,” Copley said. “I worked on a lot of stuff with (goalie coach Steve) Shields and it has gotten to the point where he is just teaching me to go out and watch the puck and not worry about little things that can throw you off your game.”
“I think he has been really focused,” Pearson added. “He has been fighting through traffic harder, finding the puck more. I think a lot of it is just mental … Steve Shields has talked about it with all the goalies about having a pregame routine and finding something that works. And once they get in that, then you stay away from them, because goalies can be a little strange.”
While only one of them made it on the scoresheet, Pearson noted that his struggling junior line of Milos Gordic, Jacob Johnstone and Ryan Furne impressed Friday with their energy and puck movement.
Gordic in particular turned in a strong performance, dominating the Bemidji defense in front of the net to set up Pietila’s power play score in the first period.
It was just the junior’s second assist since WCHA play began Oct. 19.
“He has to use his body. You can’t teach size and he has that and he has to use that,” Pearson said.
“He does a great job in front on the power play and he had a couple great chances tonight.”