HOUGHTON, Mich. — On Friday, the Michigan Tech Huskies looked to prove that the MacInnes Student Ice Arena is a tough place to play during Winter Carnival weekend.
They accomplished that feat, jumping out twice to one-goal leads en route to a 2-1 victory over Denver. The win was the first for the Huskies at home over the Pioneers since December 13, 1997.
“With the standings being so tight this was a huge win,” said Huskies head coach Jamie Russell. “Winning is something you have to learn.”
Both teams seemed to feel each other out during the first three to four minutes with neither squad getting an advantage shot-wise. The Huskies did manage to get a couple of shots at junior goaltender Peter Mannino, but he matched every chance.
“I thought Michigan Tech played really well tonight,” said Pioneers head coach George Gwozdecky. “I didn’t expect anything different (from Michigan Tech) than what we saw tonight.”
The Huskies struck first on their second power play of the opening frame as sophomore defenseman Geoff Kinrade found himself alone in front of Mannino. Freshman winger Ryan Bunger fed a perfect pass to him, and he buried a wrist shot at 11:01. Assistant captain Tyler Skworchinski also assisted on Kinrade’s second power play marker of the season.
“Everyone focused in on the puck, so I was open in front for quite awhile,” said Kinrade. “I just yelled for the puck and Bunger was able to get it to me.”
The Pioneers were quick to even the game as sophomore forward Patrick Mullen stole the puck from Huskies freshman center Alex Gagne, skate the puck to the slot and fire a wrist shot up over sophomore goaltender Michael-Lee Teslak’s left shoulder. The unassisted tally came at the 13:04 mark, and was Mullen’s fifth of the campaign.
The Huskies, after proving in the first period that they could skate with the Pioneers, jumped on them again early in the second period.
Skworchinski regained the lead for the Huskies just 2:46 into the period. Kinrade regrouped in the neutral zone, moving the puck back to co-captain Lars Helminen. Helminen hit Skworchinski in stride, and Skworchinski skated in and fired a long wrist shot over Mannino’s right shoulder.
“Lars made a great pass right on my stick,” said Skworchinski. “I just tried to get the shot on the net.”
The Huskies had a golden opportunity to extend the lead to two goals when junior winger Tyler Shelast replaced junior defenseman Mark Malekoff coming from the penalty box. Shelast snuck in behind the Pioneer defender, stole the puck, and blasted off on a three-on-two. Shelast attempted to feed junior winger Jimmy Kerr, but the play was broken up at the last second.
Continuing to put the pressure on Mannino, junior center Peter Rouleau made a great move to get around captain Adrian Veideman and cut in alone, but Mannino stretched out for the save with a little over four minutes left in the period.
“I would have liked to have both of the goals back,” said Mannino. “I kind of felt like I let the guys down a bit.”
Sophomore forward Alex Lord made a very similar move to get to Mannino, but again Mannino matched him with just over a minute remaining. Off the ensuing face-off, junior defenseman Jake Wilkens fired a shot that Mannino kicked straight to a waiting Jordan Foote and the junior forward nearly snuck the puck under Mannino and in.
The Pioneers came out with more gumption in the third period, but despite outshooting the Huskies 12-3, they couldn’t find a way to beat Teslak.
Freshman center Tyler Ruegsegger stole the puck in the Huskies zone just four and a half minutes in. He fed freshman defenseman Keith Seabrook, and cut to the net for the tip, but Teslak came up big.
With Bunger off for interference at the 8:12 mark, Skworchinski cleared the puck out of the defensive zone, beat Seabrook to the loose puck, and nearly netted his second of the night on a wraparound attempt the Mannino stopped with his feet.
“Tyler’s playing extremely well,” said Russell. “He’s finishing his career off with a fantastic senior season.
Teslak was tested again later on that power play when junior center Ryan Dingle was fed by freshman Brock Trotter, but he again came up with the stop.
The Pioneers fired more shots as time wound down, but Teslak was there every time to make the timely stop.
Late in the third, senior center Mike Handza verbally attacked Huskies sophomore Justin St. Louis, and Russell commended his forward for his poise under pressure.
“I’m so proud of Justin for keeping his composure,” said Russell. “Those are the things that win hockey games for you.”
The Huskies finished the night one-for-three on the man advantage, while holding the Pioneers to zero-for-six.
The win was the sixth of the season for Teslak. The loss was just the fourth for Mannino.
Russell’s record in Winter Carnival games improved to 2-3-2 with the victory.
Denver will seek to even the series at 5:07 p.m. ET Saturday.