Huskies kings of their kennel again

HOUGHTON – The difference between the Michigan Tech hockey team’s home (17-14-4) and road (12-28-5) performance under head coach Mel Pearson is clear.

The reason, however, less so.

Playing under the friendly confines of the MacInnes Student Ice Arena for just the second time this season Friday night, the Huskies jumped out with superior energy and verve, dictated the tempo for the entire first period and were rewarded with a 1-0 lead over Michigan State when David Johnstone slapped home a Ryan Furne centering pass just under six minutes into the contest.

A down second period proved inconsequential as goaltender Pheonix Copley kept the Spartans at bay, and Tech’s renewed energy and forecheck in the final period led directly to Tanner Kero and Alex Petan goals and a 3-0 victory.

The Huskies are now 2-0 at home this season with a 0-6-1 mark on the road.

“That’s a good question, and if I had the answer for that I’d be a millionaire,” Pearson said. “You are a lot more confident at home, and you hear it all the time – its a cliche – but it really makes a difference.

“Our guys knew that students were lined up outside at 6 p.m. to get into the building – we showed them some video – and that is fantastic. It just gives your team a lot of energy.”

“The student section was full right away in warmups, and that just helps us out a lot,” Kero added. “We are right into it right away and getting all pumped up.”

Tech immediately put MSU under pressure with four lines of hard skating, and the Spartans finally slipped when forward Thomas Ebbing failed to clear the puck near his own net.

The fortuitous bounce fell to the senior Furne and he quickly centered to a wide-open Johnstone who slapped home for his second tally of the season.

“Way too many (turnovers). Way, way too many,” Spartans coach Tom Anastos said. “That is an understatement.”

After a scoreless and sloppy second period, Tech got going again quickly in the third when a giveaway in the neutral zone allowed Blake Pietila (two assists) to play in Kero in the slot, and the junior took his time before blasting home five-hole on Sparty goalie Jake Hildebrand (27 saves).

“I just kind of threw it at the net,” Kero said with a chuckle. “Coach said get pucks to the net and good things will happen. So I got it, threw it on net and it went in.”

Petan added the clincher with less than five minutes remaining when – again – a Spartans turnover in their own zone allowed Petan time to shoot from the blue line.

The hard shot beat Hildebrand high, near post as Kero provided a screen on the netminder.

It was another positive result off a hardworking forecheck, a point of emphasis all week for the Huskies.

“Our guys were ready to play tonight,” Pearson said. “We talked about wanting to get on their defense and be aggressive on the forecheck, and they did a pretty good job.

“(Assistant) coach Bill (Muckalt) made the comment after the first period about how much improved our transition game was. And then you have to take advantage, no question about it.”

If Tech was opportunistic on offense, it was clinical defensively.

The Huskies held MSU to just 19 shots total – most of which came soft and wide – killed all three Spartan power plays without threat and gave Copley his first shutout of the season.

Copley has now faced only 34 shots in the two home games.

“I didn’t have too many grade-A opportunities against me tonight,” Copley said. “And that is what the guys do, they are playing good defense and making my job a lot easier.”