Husky hockey coming around/Michael Bleach
On the surface, the Michigan Tech hockey team’s 6-8-2 record is nothing to get excited over.
On the surface, the negative-four goal differential (which improves to 17-for and 17-against in WCHA play) is just as mediocre.
But as student sections all over the country can tell you, the surface can be tricky. Ice is slippery.
Surviving an early season cauldron with road trips to No. 3 Michigan, No. 13 Notre Dame and No. 20 Minnesota-Duluth, plus a home series with No. 14 Lake Superior State, the Huskies’ 6-8-2 mark begins to look a bit better. Throw in the fact that five of eight points came from the wilderness of the two Alaska schools – where jet lag, boredom and polar bears in fighter jets loom as an ever-present danger – and 6-8-3 starts to look downright serviceable.
Coach Mel Pearson likely wouldn’t agree – because coaches are hardwired not to agree to these sort of assertions – but if he was given the choice of 6-8-3 after two months into the season and just two points removed from second place in the WCHA, and the Huskies should have jumped at that bargain in September.
They easily control their own fate now.
And things are looking up.
What Pearson wanted to see in Alaska – besides the wins of course – was production from his power play and an ability to fight from a hole on the road.
Check and check.
The Huskies tallied three times with the man advantage against Anchorage and Fairbanks, giving life to what had been a dead unit. Even better, defenseman Shane Hanna found himself on the scorebook three times – ever important as he tries to fill Steven Seigo’s shoes as the power play “quarterback.”
Now, the team’s power play conversion rate (9.9 percent) still ranks ninth of 10 in the conference, but at least its trending in the right direction.
And goals of any sort – even-strength or not – will prove a huge boon with the way goaltender Pheonix Copley is playing.
The sophomore recovered from a mini-rut against Lake State to bag a pair of one-goal wins in Fairbanks and secure the tie in Anchorage. Last season, Copley took longer to recover from his dips in form, leading to Pearson guessing between three netminders in hopes of finding the hot hand night after night.
Through two months now Copley leads the WCHA in goals-against average at an elite 1.98 per contest and ranks third in save percentage (.931).
As Minnesota State proved last season, a team can win a whole lot of games with that kind of goaltending, even if it struggles to score.
And so far, Tech has struggled to score.
The Huskies rank No. 9 in the conference in goals-for and sit almost a full goal behind last year’s production, despite returning much of the same cast.
Somewhat shockingly, Blake Pietila still has only lit the lamp once in 15 games. Other than Alex Petan (eight goals, 14 points) and Tanner Kero (11 points), there is room for improvement across the board.
But that should be encouraging. That the Huskies are within one win of second place in the conference AND stuck in an offensive malaise?
Glass half full or empty, that’s an achievement to build upon. Simple regression to the mean (in a good way), and the Huskies will improve in the standings.
So take heart, Black and Gold faithful.
The best is yet to come.
Michael Bleach can be reached at mbleach @mininggazette.com. Follow him on twitter @michaelbleach.