Exceptional exhibition: Petan hat trick helps Tech break through in opener

HOUGHTON – Alex Petan had another night to remember for Michigan Tech Saturday, even if the history books won’t.

For the second time in as many years, the sophomore recorded a hat trick in the season-opening exhibition as the Huskies got enough of their 59 shots on goal to go in for a 3-2 victory over Laurentian.

Petan, an all-Western Collegiate Hockey Association preseason first-team pick, had 15 goals last season. He resumed his scoring shot at the first opportunity, though like his three-goal night against Brock last October, they won’t count on his official ledger.

“You can tell he’s a special player. He knows what to do around the net,” Tech coach Mel Pearson said. “We just have to convince him that every game’s an exhibition game and then we’ll be OK.”

The Huskies controlled play from beginning to end but didn’t always show that edge on the brand-new video scoreboard at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena, thanks to Voyageur goalie Alain Valiquette. Valiquette, a veteran of more than 100 Major Junior games with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves, proved a tough nut to crack.

Valiquette had racked up 30 saves in 32 minutes and the Voyageurs had taken a lead against the run of play earlier in the period before Petan and the Huskies broke through.

The initial shot from the point came from freshman defenseman Chris Leibinger. Petan tipped it into Valiquette’s mask or upper body, then collected the rebound and easily tucked it into the net.

“It kind of caught the goalie in a weird spot. He’s been controlling the rebounds all night. That one just popped out and I was able to poke it in. It was a great feeling to get on the board,” Petan said.

The teams were 1-1 after 40 minutes, but a bad turnover onto Tanner Kero’s stick created a 2-on-0 situation. Kero fed Petan for the 2-1 goal at 1:31.

The Voyageurs grabbed an equalizer seven minutes later when Richard Therien got a stick to Matthew Eddy’s shot and directed it behind Jamie Phillips in the Husky net.

Tech kept pushing and got the game-winner from a fortunate bounce on a 2-on-1. Petan was trying to be the playmaker for freshman linemate Brent Baltus, but his pass across was directed in off the blade of a Voyageur defender’s stick.

“I wanted him to get his first goal and get the nerves out. I tried to feed it through and it just went off the D-man’s stick and in the net. The thing that counts, it went in, we got that third goal and we came out with a win,” Petan said.

Though Baltus took a penalty inside the last minute, Laurentian couldn’t find a tying goal.

The exhibition game Pearson a chance to field an expanded roster and give several less-heralded players game action. Also, Pearson played both of his returning goaltenders, with Pheonix Copley stopping 13 of 14 shots in the first 40 minutes and Phillips making 6-of-7 saves in the third period.

“What I think it really did was give us an opportunity as coaches to see what we have a little bit more than what we normally do in practice,” Pearson said.

All the freshmen skaters played, including Leibinger, who notched his first unofficial point.

“All the seniors pretty much said cherish your first game. It’s going to be memorable, it’s going to be loud, but most of all they just said go out and have fun because you’re going to want to remember it for a while,” he said.

Though the shot count was 3-to-1 in Tech’s favor most of the game, Pearson said the Huskies could have done more to create traffic in front of Valiquette.

“We did a lot of good things to create quality scoring chances. I did not like our finish around the net. We have to bear down. But it’s hard to preach offense. It’s hard to force offense,” he said.

He was pleased with several parts of Tech’s game, though an 0-for-5 night on the power play and insufficient defensive activity away from the puck were emphasized for improvement ahead of Friday’s regular season opener at Minnesota Duluth.

Former WCHA rival UMD is sure to throw its weight around next weekend, and the Voyageurs held their own physically (most Canadian college players are older than their U.S. counterparts) and didn’t back down.

“We played against men tonight and I thought that was good for our team,” he said.

After five road games, the Huskies return to the MacInnes Oct. 26 against Northern Michigan.