Huskies bear down, salvage split with LSSU

HOUGHTON – Learning lessons from the minutes of madness that cost them the win Friday night, Michigan Tech made no mistake Saturday, taking the initiative and holding it for 60 full minutes in a 2-1 WCHA win over Lake Superior State.

The lopsided (47-22) shot count in Tech’s favor told some of the story, but the Huskies earned it more with the aggressive way they forechecked and kept the Lakers on their heels for much of the night.

It took a while to break through LSSU goalie Kevin Kapalka, but Alex Petan and Ryan Furne scored to put the Huskies up and they held the lead through a late Laker counterattack.

“For the most part, I thought we did a real good job forcing the play in their own zone a lot and that’s where you’re going to get your breaks, forcing them into mistakes, and I thought Furne’s goal was a prime example of that,” Tech coach Mel Pearson said.

Furne, a senior, scored the game-winner just past the midway point of the third period. He took the puck off a Laker along the near boards, turned forward into the right circle and shot high over Kapalka’s glove for his second goal of the season.

“The puck kind of just bounced right to me, and I think I just threw it on net because I saw the goalie go down and luckily it went in,” he said.

After generating very little offensively in the first 40 minutes, the Lakers had been challenging more up to Furne’s goal, then got one of their own soon after when Andrew Dommett scored on a hard wrister from the right circle at 12:30.

It was the only blemish against the record of sophomore goalie Jamie Phillips, seeing his first action since Oct. 20 at Notre Dame. Phillips made 21 saves, 11 of them in the third.

“I thought this was a good opportunity to get Jamie in. Jamie’s practiced very well and he deserved the start. It was a tough game for him, he hasn’t played for a while, he didn’t see many shots in the first two periods and in the third period, when the game was on, I thought he played very well,” Pearson said.

Aiding Phillips was a defense willing to press the issue and get in front of Laker shots. Senior Dan Sova returned to the blue line for the first time this season after offseason wrist surgery, while the coaching staff stressed accountability by making senior captain Brad Stebner a healthy scratch.

“When you sit out for three or four weeks, it’s not easy to come back in, but I felt the team really battled hard in front of me and made my life a lot easier,” Phillips said.

LSSU had a late power play, but put only one shot on goal. Phillips made three saves down the stretch, while Sova, Cliff Watson and Dennis Rix blocked shots and the Huskies earned their way to 4-7-1 overall, 2-2-0 in the WCHA.

“They were on the puck hard. They did a lot of stuff up the ice to keep us out of their zone. Full credit to those guys, I thought they did a good job,” LSSU coach Jim Roque said.

Kapalka made 45 saves, though Roque was pleased with his team’s competitiveness. The second period, in which the Lakers were outshot 24-5, was a case of being unable to transition out of Tech’s pressure into something for themselves.

“Every time we’d break out, we’d have no energy to forecheck, we’re changing,” he said.

For their 24 shots, the Huskies got one goal and it took a fortunate bounce. After an unsuccessful shot, Petan’s centering pass from behind the goal line went off a Laker defenseman, hit Kapalka’s upper body and bounced in for the sophomore’s sixth goal of the season.

“We talked about ‘good start, strong middle and a great finish.’ That’s how we presented it to the team. For the most part, I liked our start, we had a real strong middle, and the great thing about the finish is we won the game,” Pearson said.

The Huskies head north to Alaska for something of a first: back-to-back series in the Last Frontier. The first games of the 11-day trip are Friday and Saturday in Anchorage, followed by two in Fairbanks the following weekend.

“It’s an important road swing for us. We have not won on the road yet. We’ve got to prove to ourselves, first and foremost, that we can go into a rink and win. Anchorage is much-improved, Fairbanks has a good team. It’s going to be a tough trip, but I think our boys are looking forward to it,” Pearson said.