HOUGHTON, Mich. — Looking to avenge a 1-0 loss a season ago in Marquette, the Michigan Tech Huskies (0-1-0 overall) came out a bit tentatively against the Northern Michigan Wildcats, but managed to get on track and outshoot the Wildcats by more than a two-to-one margin.
The Wildcats (1-0-0 overall) wouldn’t budge, though, and instead struck twice in the opening frame in front of 4,154 at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena Friday. Still, the Wildcats would need a five-on-three power-play tally in the third to win, 3-2, in the inaugural game for both squads in the Superior Showcase.
Assistant captain T.J. Miller broke a 2-2 tie with a blast from the top of the circle to Husky netminder Michael-Lee Teslak’s right. The game-winning goal came at 3:43 of the third with assists from junior winger Nick Sirota and sophomore center Matt Butcher.
“I saw I had an opening and I just tried to get it short side,” said Miller. “Things just kind of went well for us in that situation.”
“We haven’t spent a lot of time on the five-on-three yet,” said Wildcats head coach Walt Kyle. “But we have a lot of high hopes for that sophomore in that position, and he did what he had to do.”
Sirota got the Wildcats on the board at the 7:55 mark of the first period when he redirected a pass from senior winger Andrew Sarauer past Teslak. Freshman defenseman Andrew Fernandez also assisted on the goal.
“We made a mistake and gave up a goal on the odd-man rush,” said Husky head coach Jamie Russell.
The Huskies evened the game while on the man advantage when assistant captain Tyler Shelast whistled a wrist shot past Wildcat goaltender Brian Stewart from Stewart’s left. The shot got up and under the crossbar very quickly, in Shelast’s signature style. The senior’s first power-play marker of the season was set up by sophomore defenseman Drew Dobson. The goal came at 11:59.
“This game was really disappointing for us,” said Shelast. “I think we showed a lot of nerves tonight.”
The Huskies were awarded another power play as Shelast scored, but it was the Wildcats who netted a shorthanded tally to regain their one-goal lead. Jared Brown, a freshman center, fired a low wrist shot from the right circle that beat Teslak on the stick side. The unassisted goal came at 13:24.
“We think he (Brown) is going to be a very good hockey player,” said Kyle. “We have a lot of confidence in our young guys.”
The Huskies outshot the Wildcats 11-5 through 20 minutes, and appeared to be settling in after a bit of a slow start. Despite having two power plays early in the second period, the Wildcats couldn’t muster any real threat, getting only two pucks to Teslak over a four-plus minute span.
“We have a very young team, and we’re going to have to patient while we grow,” said Kyle. “At times when we didn’t play well, we were playing right into Tech’s hands.”
With Wildcat sophomore forward Ray Kaunisto off for holding the stick, the Huskies needed only 10 seconds to strike on the power play as Shelast netted his second goal of the game at 8:28. After senior Peter Rouleau won the draw to Dobson, Dobson fed junior defenseman Geoff Kinrade, whose shot was redirected by Shelast through Stewart’s legs and in.
After the Huskies evened the game at 2, the pace of the game slowed as both teams finally appeared to settle down. Forming the perfect recipe for some big hits, the Huskies began punishing their opponents physically.
“We pride ourselves on being a physical, hard-working hockey team,” said Shelast. “We expected to be able to take it to them in the third period.”
The Huskies’ defense stood tall as well, keeping the Wildcat forwards away from high-percentage areas of the offensive zone and giving Teslak plenty of time to see pucks.
“Our second period was better, but we should be better conditioned in the third period,” said Husky captain Jimmy Kerr.
Kerr had some golden opportunities on the power play in the second period, but couldn’t find the back of the net. He wasn’t the only Husky who found it tough to score on Stewart.
“We felt that he (Stewart) had taken over the number-one job last year, and we have a lot of confidence in him,” said Kyle.
The tone of the game changed in the third period, as the Wildcats outshot the Huskies 7-5 and at times looked like the veteran team instead of the Huskies.
“The third period should be our best period, but I didn’t think we got nearly enough shots on goal,” said Russell. “We need to do more five-on-five.”
The Huskies did get a man advantage with 2:34 remaining in regulation, but couldn’t find the net for the tying marker.
“A lot this game was dictated by who had the power play,” said Kyle. “We got some really great goaltending at the end.”
One positive note for the Huskies heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Lake Superior State Lakers: MTU finished 2-for-8 on the power play while holding the Wildcats to 1-for-6 — but that one was a big one.
“Two power-play goals should be enough for this team,” said Russell. “We need to generate some more offense even strength, and not complicate things coming through the neutral zone so much.”
The Huskies outshot the Wildcats 22-19 for the game.