Eight feels great: Tech hockey destroys NMU 8-2 in rivalry rout

HOUGHTON – Michigan Tech scored just one goal in 60 minutes in a December loss at Northern Michigan. Tuesday night the host Huskies took less than 60 seconds to get a goal against the rival Wildcats, and they only piled it on from there.

For the third straight game, Tech jumped out to 2-0 and 4-1 leads, and for the second straight game it padded that lead in convincing fashion, following up Saturday’s 6-1 win over Alaska Anchorage with a dominant 8-2 showing against NMU. The win snaps a four-game losing streak to Northern in the teams’ final non-conference meeting.

“Any time you beat Northern it’s good. Hopefully it’s the first of many,” Tech coach Mel Pearson said. “It’s a good rivalry, an intense rivalry, and I think it’ll only get better as we go into the same league with each other.

” I give our guys a lot of credit, they were ready to play tonight. We came out with some energy and obviously we got the bounces and the breaks.”

Hancock native Tanner Kero opened the scoring just 46 seconds in and added an easy rebound power play goal late in the second period. He and Blake Pietila, who had a goal and three assists, posted of the first four-point nights by a Husky this season. Five other teammates had multi-point nights, including junior forward Jacob Johnstone, who scored his long-awaited first goal of the season.

“We weren’t very good, and they were really good,” summed up NMU coach Walt Kyle, who pulled starting goaltender Jared Coreau after four goals, and put him back in after back-up Michael Doan also surrendered four.

“It wasn’t a goaltending issue tonight. I’m sure there were a couple goals we would have liked to have back, but the reality is they outplayed us, they won net-front battles, won battles everywhere on the ice. We were rotten in front of both of them.”

During the first shift of the game, NMU’s defense left Kero wide open between the circles, and the sophomore forward beat Coreau high glove.

Less than five minutes later, Pietila fired a back-door pass to Johnstone, who only had to put his stick on the puck to beat Coreau.

“It was frustrating most of the year, but it felt good to get the monkey off my back and hopefully I can carry that in through the second half of the year,” said Johnstone, whose reunited line with fellow juniors Ryan Furne and Milos Gordic has accounted for at least three points in three straight games.

Only two minutes after Johnstone’s goal it became obvious it was Tech’s night. Northern’s C.J. Ludwig held a Husky around the net but the puck somehow squirted loose, hitting Pietila’s skate and going past Coreau. Blake’s brother and ex-Wildcat Chad Pietila picked up the assist.

Ludwig went to the box and Tech continued its surge on the ensuing power play with an Alex Petan rebound goal.

The Huskies led 4-0 just 8:59 into the game; they only had three first-period shots in the 2-1 loss to the Wildcats on Dec. 4.

Erik Higby finally stalled Tech’s momentum – only temporarily – with a goal 35 seconds after Petan’s tally, and the Wildcats stemmed the tide until midway through the second period.

“They were the better team for the first five, six, seven minutes of the second period,” Pearson said. “We knew they were going to come out and give us a push. (Goaltender) Pheonix (Copley) got us through it. Obviously that fifth goal was big, it was a huge goal for us, and I think that sort of took the wind out of their sails.”

Copley saved 18 of 19 shots before being supplanted for the second straight game by fellow freshman Jamie Phillips. Hyland, who scored his first career goal Saturday, scored Tech’s critical fifth goal, a shot from the right point that found its way past Doan.

The sixth, seventh and eighth goals came during a two-minute span late in the second. Jujhar Khaira stole a puck in the slot and beat Doan low blocker at the 13:22 mark; Kero’s seventh goal of the year was Tech’s seventh of the night; and Furne finished off a 2-on-1 assist from Johnstone for goal No. 8.

“Friday we got a little awakening that you can’t sit back with any type of lead, so I think we definitely showed we could play with a lead on Saturday, and I think that definitely helped today,” Kero said.

The eight goals Tech scored is the most in its rivalry against NMU since Oct. 18, 1997, another 8-2 win.

The second period featured five roughing penalties when frustration settled in, but the third stanza was uneventful with just two combined minor penalties. NMU’s Jake Johnson scored on Phillips with just 50 seconds left in the game to finalize the 8-2 score.

Tech captain Carl Nielsen played just two minutes in the game after getting cut in two places on his head. He needed stitches and did not return for precautionary reasons. He is expected to return this weekend. Sophomore forward David Johnstone, who has a four-game point streak, did not play to rest up for this weekend. NMU played the final 50 minutes of the game without assistant captain Reed Seckel, who was charged with a charging major and a game misconduct.

Both teams return to conference play this weekend, NMU (12-14-3) at Michigan State, and Tech (10-14-4) at Minnesota State.