HOUGHTON — Following a pair of 2-1 losses to the No. 1 Minnesota State Mavericks, the No. 15 Michigan Tech Huskies enter the opening round of the CCHA playoffs with their heads held high. A one-goal loss in overtime and a one-goal loss in regulation to the top team in the country will have that effect.
The Huskies, who enter the CCHA playoffs as the second seed, showed they can skate toe-to-toe with one of the top programs in the country. They scored the first goal each night. They had 22 shots on goal Friday night, 26 on Saturday, against a Mavericks team that averaged just 16 shots against per game coming into the weekend.
Faceoff is 7:07 p.m. Friday and 6:07 p.m. Saturday at 6:07 p.m. If necessary, both game three is 5:07 p.m. Sunday.
Huskies coach Joe Shawhan was understandably pleased with the effort, despite the pair of losses.
“I thought we chased the game a bit on Friday after the first period, (and we) tried to catch up with it,” he said. “I thought that they dictated flow.
“I think the second game was very similar through two periods, where we were really good in the first. I thought we chased it a bit in the second again, where they had the puck the majority of the time, or a lot of the time. But I thought, third period, we regained ourselves. That was good. The third (period) was a very even, highly-competitive hockey game.”
The Huskies were especially impressive in the third period Saturday night, as they outshot the Mavericks 12-5 in the period. While that did not lead to goals, Shawhan was encouraged by the efforts put in by the 13 forwards and six defensemen in the lineup.
“I think it was more important to the players to be able to have a good third period,” he said. “We’re hoping to see them again, down the road…I thought they thought that our execution and our compete level, and our individual attention to detail, was very good.”
A big part of the efforts put forth by the Huskies in their battle with the Mavericks was junior goaltender Blake Pietila. The second-year starter made 29 saves on Friday and 19 more on Saturday as he battled fellow Mike Richter Award nominee Dryden McKay both nights.
“I don’t think either gave an inch,” Shawhan said.
Also evident throughout the weekend was the play of the teams’ top lines. The Mavericks got two goals from Nathan Smith, who returned to the lineup from the Winter Olympics in Beijing, and one from Julian Napravnik. The Huskies got goals from senior winger Tommy Parrottino on Friday and senior winger Brian Halonen on Saturday.
“You look at Nathan Smith, he performed. Napravnik was tremendous,” said Shawhan. “We got goals from Halonen and from Parrottino, the Halonen-Parrottino-Bliss line. So that’s just the way it’s got to be.”
Depth play comes through
Shawhan was also happy with the efforts of his fourth line of sophomore winger Nick Nardella, junior center Logan Ganie, and junior winger Jake Crespi, especially on Saturday night. The trio found ways to create offense with seven shots on goal.
“If you look at Saturday night, Ganie’s line was tremendous,” Shawhan said. “Ganie’s line, with Nardella and Crespi, (was) absolutely tremendous. They were, in all aspects, our most effective line on a consistent basis.”
Hosting the Bulldogs
The Huskies, who are hosting a playoff series at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena for the first time since 2017, are excited to be home again this weekend. They will face the Ferris State Bulldogs, who come into the playoffs as the seventh seed.
The Bulldogs, who are coached by Bob Daniels, who has been in that capacity with Ferris State for 29 years. His team is not the same group that came into Houghton on Nov. 26 and 27. Instead, it is a group that has gone 5-8-1 since the start of the New Year, including a 4-2 win over Northern Michigan to close out the regular season last Saturday.
Shawhan considers the Bulldogs to be a very opportunistic squad, always looking for a chance to create offense in odd-man situations.
“They’re well-coached,” said Shawhan. “They’re laying it all out there. They’re taking chances. They’re pulling the zone offensively. They’re saying, ‘Okay, let our goalie make this save, and we’ll take our gamble…that we can score the other way.’
“A good portion that’s due to Ferris, and in how you have to manage the game, based on what they’re doing. If they get possession of the puck with any time in their zone, they’re flying guys. Well, when you’re aggressively hunting offensively, and there’s guys taking off behind you, (the game) turns into your attention to timing. If they get a look, and throw it to an area, then they pop breakaways, like they did against us. … If they score on those, then you’re playing catch up, which we’ve done a couple times against them.”
Scouting the Bulldogs
Senior Justin Michaelian leads the way for the Bulldogs with eight goals and team highs with 14 assists and 22 points in 33 games. Senior winger Marshall Moise has a team-high 10 goals and 13 points.
Freshman forward Bradley Marek has been a real find for Daniels’ staff. He has nine goals and 18 points in 34 games.
Between the pipes, sophomore Logan Stein has carried the bulk of the load, appearing in 25 games, starting 22 of them. He comes into the weekend with a 3.64 goals-against average and an .881 save percentage. Freshman Noah Giebrecht joined the team over the Christmas break, and he has seen action in nine games, starting six of them. He had a 3.40 goals-against average and a .882 save percentage.