Welcome to year No. 2, Mel Pearson.
Michigan Tech surprised everyone last season when it went from a 26-game winless streak and a 4-30-4 finish in 2010-11 to a spot in the WCHA Final Five last season under first-year coach Pearson.
The vast improvement landed Pearson the WCHA coach of the year award but the question remains: Can the Huskies again find themselves in the hunt for a home playoff berth?
“We’re not going to be able to sneak up on anybody this year,” said Pearson, whose team finished the regular season two points out of sixth place and the final home playoff spot.
“Sometimes, the toughest games to get ready for are against teams that your players might not have as much respect for, but we gained a lot of respect last year.”
Michigan Tech improved its win total by 12 from 2010-11 to last season but for Pearson and the Huskies to repeat their success, they must win without key players from last season’s team.
“We are going to miss some key seniors like Jordan Baker and Brett Olson who fought injuries throughout their career but stayed healthy last year,” Pearson said. “They were our leaders last year.”
The Huskies return seven out of the 10 top scorers from last season’s team, including sophomore David Johnstone (11-18–29) and junior Ryan Furne (12-12–24).
Pearson has a lot of faith in his team’s power play, which finished 30th in the country at 18.3 percent.
“The power play really was a positive and we have a majority of the key components of it back,” Pearson said. “We are going to score goals on the power play. I feel pretty comfortable about that.”
Tech also needs to find its replacement for Josh Robinson, who played the third-most minutes (1,970:34) of all WCHA goaltenders last season.
“That will be one of the key areas going forward to figure out who our next goaltender is going to be,” Pearson said. “Our biggest question mark is in goal.”
Senior Kevin Genoe is the only candidate to replace Robinson who has collegiate experience in net. He has a career .893 save percentage.
Jamie Phillips, a seventh-round draft pick by Winnipeg, posted a .917 in the Ontario Junior Hockey League and Pheonix Copley had a .909 in the USHL.
Find solid goaltending and a few players to ignite the offense and the Huskies could be right back in the mix again in 2012-13.
“The hardest part going forward is having success, learning how to deal with it and then taking the next step,” Pearson said.
About the Huskies
2011-12 overall record: 16-19-4
2011-12 WCHA record: 11-13-4 (eighth)
2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Tie, eighth
Key losses: F Brett Olson, G Josh Robinson, F Jordan Baker
Players to watch: F Milos Gordic, F David Johnstone, F Ryan Furne, D Steven Seigo, F Blake Pietila
Impact rookie: F Jujhar Khaira
Why the Huskies will finish higher than the coaches poll: Coach Mel Pearson took a team that suffered one of the worst seasons in WCHA history in 2010-11 to the Final Five a year later. He can make them winners again.
Why the Huskies will finish lower than the coaches poll: Josh Robinson logged nearly all of the minutes in goal last season and senior Kevin Genoe has been awfully shaky his entire career.