The Huskies’ past and the future/Inside the Huskies
Michigan Tech snapped more streaks in its playoff series against North Dakota, but the Huskies couldn’t start a two-year streak of their own making the WCHA Final Five.
Tech, which snapped a 32-year Great Lakes Invitational drought and 15-year drought at St. Cloud earlier this year, ended UND’s 14-game WCHA playoff win streak and a 16-game winless streak against UND Saturday.
But Sunday was a clunker.
“We just ran out of gas,” Tech coach Mel Pearson said in a Daily Mining Gazette interview Monday night. “We couldn’t match their energy and/or their experience. It was just one of those nights.”
The series as a whole pictures a Tech season that had some impressive highs and some baffling lows.
In Friday’s 5-3 loss, Tech “played well enough to win, but just didn’t convert,” according to Pearson. The Huskies outshot UND 34-24, but also racked up 42 penalty minutes and of course surrendered five goals.
Saturday’s 2-1 win was “one of our best games of the year, one of our most complete games,” according to Pearson. While they only outshot UND 31-30, the Huskies cut Friday’s penalty minutes in half and got stout goaltending from Pheonix Copley.
Then it all fell apart in Sunday’s 6-0 loss in the decisive third game.
“I truly believed that we had what it took to win that game,” Pearson said. ” We’ve come a long way from when we played them in December.”
But UND’s killer instinct came through, something the Huskies can learn from as they continue to build toward the future with Pearson entering his third year as head coach.
“They play winning hockey, they know what it takes to become a championship team. That’s what we’re trying to build here,” he said. ” It’s a process. Some teams maybe progressed a little quicker than we have, but sometimes it takes a little longer.
“The main thing for me is we do it right. We’re not going to cut any corners or do something that’s only going to work for a year or two.”
Tech finished this season with a 13-20-4 record (8-16-4 WCHA) after finishing 16-19-4 (11-13-4 WCHA) last season and reaching the Final Five.
Despite the worse record, think back on some of Tech’s accomplishments: beating then-No. 1 Minnesota, earning consecutive shutouts to win the GLI for the first time in 32 years, winning Winter Carnival, beating first-place St. Cloud State on the road, beating UND on the road in the playoffs, and hanging an eight-goal performance on each of its U.P. rivals – who will be conference rivals next season.
The duds are confusing: falling into separate five-game losing and seven-game winless streaks during the first half, only earning one of eight possible points against ninth-place Minnesota Duluth, getting outscored 10-2 in December’s UND series and losing 5-4 to last-place Alaska Anchorage in a game it led 4-1.
“We’re learning to win on a consistent basis,” Pearson said.
A big reason for the inconsistency is the youth Tech relied on this year. Its top five point getters were underclassmen, led by Alex Petan’s 34 (Brett Olson had 30 last year), and freshmen goaltenders started 27 of 37 games.
While younger forwards stole the show, Tech didn’t see the development it needed from upperclassmen.
Only nine of the Huskies’ 20 returning skaters from 2011-12 improved their point production from the previous year, and five of those did so by two points or fewer.
Junior forwards Ryan Furne, Jacob Johnstone and Milos Gordic combined for 56 points as sophomores, but only 41 this year.
“Those are the three guys that we look at that didn’t improve numbers-wise,” Pearson said. “That’s something we’re going to have to adjust and get to the bottom of. They all came on late, but they need to get off to better starts.”
Tech as a team had a slow start offensively and defensively, only averaging 2.65 goals for before Christmas, while surrendering 3.71. The second half saw the offense improve to 3.1 goals for and 2.65 goals against.
Altogether, Tech’s season offensive output was 2.89 goals per game, compared to 2.85 the year before. Goals against increased to 3.14 this season compared to just 2.97 in 2011-12.
Strangely, given the worse defensive performance this year, team goaltending save percentage is exactly the same as last year, .901, meaning the team allowed more shots, particularly in the first half.
Tech will bring back two solid sophomore goaltenders next season, Copley (.917 save percentage second half) and NHL draft pick Jamie Phillips (.908 percent second half), solidifying that position.
“Both are going to be very good. They’ve really grown together as friends off the ice, too,” Pearson said.
But, the Huskies will lose two starting captain defensemen from a team that struggled in that area anyways. Steven Seigo’s offensive production – 75 points in 150 career games – and role as power play “quarterback” will be tough to replace, as will Carl Nielsen’s physicality.
Offensively, though, with so many young players contributing, and a dynamic scoring class coming in, goalscoring should increase next year.
“A lot of guys really grew and took another step forward. I’m really looking toward the future,” Pearson said.
It’ll be a very different looking future after conference realignment, as Tech will compete in the new-look WCHA, which includes Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Fairbanks, Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan.
Tech’s players will now take a week and a half off before strength and conditioning resumes again. The coaching staff, which Pearson believes will be intact, will be recruiting hard until the April 10-18 “dead period.”
Tech fans can look forward to the addition of a new video scoreboard at MacInnes Student Ice Arena this summer, and an outdoor GLI next season.
For more details from Monday’s 30-minute season-ending interview with Pearson and continued offseason coverage, follow @steander on Twitter and interact with the #mtuhky hashtag.
Stephen Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at twitter.com/steander.