Even though the Michigan Tech Huskies were one of the few teams which escaped the wrath of early departures, they will be hurting for goal-scoring just as much as any other team.
Gone are three key veterans in Brandon Schwartz, Taggart Desmet and Nick Anderson. But more importantly, so is Chris Conner, who was one of the league’s most exciting players to watch.
“One of the questions for us will be … who is going to do the scoring for us,” head coach Jamie Russell said.
Junior Tyler Shelast is the leading returning goal-scorer with seven on the year last season. After that, goals were few and far between. In fact, no other returning Husky had more than three.
Returning just 28 goals seems pretty scary, but there is room for a little optimism, at least in Russell’s mind. It would be hard to go as far as saying that it’s good that Conner is gone, but there is no doubt that the team probably counted on him too much.
“I think Chris was a tremendous player for us, but I think a large load came from (him),” Russell said. “I think we’re going to have a little bit more balanced scoring and a little bit more depth, where scoring is spread out among two or three lines.”
While last season saw the lowest win total since Russell took over at Michigan Tech, the Huskies mounted a bit of a rally through the second half of the last season. They grabbed a league point in every series from the second weekend in December until the final series of the year.
“We’re making progress, heading in the right direction and looking to take another step up the WCHA ladder,” Russell said.
They will need to start a similar streak early on this year in order to take that step.
Shelast will be expected to step up his game after Tech graduated a corps of veteran forwards.
But like most teams, the Huskies will need a few youngsters to break through early. Sophomores Mike Batovanja and Justin St. Louis should benefit after each getting a year of experience under their belts.
Also, look out for forward Alexander Gagne. Forced to sit out last year due to an eligibility situation — he played in one major junior game in Canada — he scored 35 goals and notched 70 points in 60 games two years ago in the BCHL.
“He’ll be new this year and I think he’s a very talented kid,” Russell said. “He’s certainly one to watch.”
On the Blue Line
Led by Lars Helminen, Geoff Kinrade and Mark Malekoff, the Huskies’ defensive corps is in good shape. Russell said he expects his eight defensemen to battle for lineup spots week in and week out, leaving him with plenty of tough decisions.
In the Crease
Michael-Lee Teslak and Rob Nolan both saw plenty of time in their rookie seasons last year, experience that can only bode well for Tech.
Teslak garnered all of the Huskies’ victories, including a sweep of Alaska-Anchorage, and showed he has the talent to keep his team in games.
Now sophomores, both goaltenders will continue to get opportunities this year.
“I really like both goaltenders we have,” Russell said. “They’ll get an opportunity to show what they can do.”