When the playoffs start in hockey, some players find an extra gear, an extra level, that they use to become heroes when their teams need them to.
For Michigan Tech, that player is Tommy Parrottino.
To say that the sophomore winger is hot would be an understatement.
Since scoring a goal on Feb. 14 at Ferris State, Parrottino is on an unprecedented run, scoring six goals and nine points in his last six games. To help put those numbers in perspective, he scored just six goals and 10 points in 30 contests as a freshman.
With a hat trick against rival Northern Michigan last weekend in the WCHA quarterfinals opener and four goals on the weekend, he is relishing the opportunity before him.
“It feels pretty good and it feels good that we’re winning these games and producing offensively,” he said. “The whole team’s contributing and just feels good as a forward corps to see each other produce and win some games with more than just two goals.”
Parrottino and the Huskies went into last weekend’s series with all kinds of confidence after taking three out of four games from the Wildcats during the regular season, with their lone loss coming in the final game of the regular season capped by Darien Craighead’s flag plant on the Huskies logo at center ice, all of which gave the Huskies a little extra motivation to play well in the playoffs.
“We definitely wanted revenge for them ruining our Senior Night,” Parrottino said. “I think it just intensified as the week went on knowing that we’re going to Northern. They’re our rival and we definitely owed them one after they planted the flag in our logo.”
The hat trick was his second such feat of the season and of five Huskies’ hat tricks on the season, which are tops in Division I college hockey to this point in the season. His first came back on Oct. 26 in a 4-2 win over Bowling Green.
Coincidentally, that was the first game he was put on a line with classmate Trenton Bliss and freshman center Logan Pietila. The trio have helped drive the Huskies’ late season surge after a rough patch through much of January.
“I think we just literally (had) instant chemistry,” said Parrottino. “Logan’s a really good skater and Trenton has a really good shot. (He) makes plays as well. I think we all just kind of complement each other well.”
With his point production over the past six games, Parrottino has vaulted up to a tie for fifth in scoring for the Huskies with 21 points in 35 games. Linemates Bliss and Pietila are also doing extremely well, with Bliss having racked up 12 goals and 27 points and Pietila notching eight goals and 20 points.
In Huskies coach Joe Shawhan’s opinion, the reason that Parrottino, Bliss and Pietila have worked out so well is actually quite simple.
“You can tell it they have an off-ice relationship,” said Shawhan. “They’re friends. I think that helps and they look for each other. They talk. I think they have high hockey IQ. They talk about what they can do, what they want to try, and then they go out and they try it.”
The truth is a bit more complicated than that.
The trio has blossomed into the Huskies’ top trio over the course of a trial by fire. After the win at Bowling Green, the three were part of a tough three-game losing streak that saw the Huskies drop a game to now-No. 1 North Dakota and now-No. 2 Minnesota State, their opponent in the WCHA semifinal series this weekend.
Parrottino, Bliss and Pietila really started to click the following weekend against Lake Superior State on Nov. 15-16, and never really looked back from there, helping the Huskies go on a 10-3-1 run over their next 14 games and put themselves on the national map.
That being said, Parrottino was not scoring. As the Huskies entered the Great Lakes Invitational, he had just four goals and six points. Then, he scored a timely goal short-handed just 1:04 into the third period against Michigan State.
“He scored a big goal to tie the game up against Michigan State in the third period,” Shawhan said. “He gets big goals. He had a hat trick at Bowling Green early in the year that was huge in that win for us. He plays fine in big environments. He really relishes those opportunities.”
He came up with a key assist on Pietila’s game-winning tally against Arizona State on Jan. 5, and that play helped spark his confidence throughout the second half as he has racked up 13 points since that game.
The Rochester Hills, Mich., native, who was a natural scorer in U18 play, struggled to translate his game to the junior level in the USHL in a season each with Des Moines and Youngstown, but he still caught the eye of Shawhan’s staff. His current head coach is pleased to see his natural offensive ability begin to shine at the collegiate level.
“I think the biggest thing is he just got comfortable,” Shawhan said. “He’s playing now like the player that we recruited. This is exactly how he played when he was in midget hockey when, with the game on the line, he wanted the puck. I said that many times. This kid, when we recruited him, this kid wants, with the game on the line, the puck. In juniors, I don’t know if he ever really settled into that.
“It’s great to see that he’s got that back in his game. He did it actually, relatively quickly.”
For Parrottino, finding the success he is having now is all he can ask for. Shawhan describes him as a player who wants the puck on his stick when the chips are down, and the 6-foot, 170-pound winger agrees.
“It’s definitely a good feeling to have the puck and be able to change the game and impact the game at critical moments,” said Parrottino. “For me, I’ve always wanted to be the hero and the guy that puts the puck in the night at the right time for the team win. I think that, at the end of the games, I think you just need to have the confidence and the ability to have the puck and be able to make those plays to be able to make the team have success.”
Parrottino and the Huskies will have their work cut out for them this weekend as they face the Mavericks, who enter the weekend on a three-game winning streak and have won 15 of their last 18 games. During their two-game series in Houghton in November, the Mavericks won both games, 3-0 and 2-1, respectively.
The Mavericks are the highest-scoring team in the nation, scoring at a pace of 4.00 goals per game. They also boast the nation’s top defense at 1.46 goals per game against.
While the numbers seem stacked against the Huskies, the last time they faced the Mavericks in the playoffs was 2017-18, where the Huskies dropped the series opener, 2-1, before winning the next two contests, 4-2 and 2-1 in overtime, sending the Huskies to the WCHA championship game.
Beavers look to hold serve
In the other semifinal matchup, Bemidji State hosts the Falcons.
The Beavers finished second in the WCHA with 65 points, but needed three games to defeat Lake Superior State in the quarterfinals. The Falcons finished tied for fourth with 49 and swept Alaska on the road last weekend.
Adam Brady had a strong weekend for the Beavers as he scored a goal in both wins for the hosts. Owen Sillinger also had a strong weekend with two goals and two assists.
For the Falcons, seven different skaters found the back of the net over the course of the weekend. Brandon Kruse led the way offensively with five assists in the series. Tim Theocrharidis and Max Johnson both had three-point weekends consisting of a goal and two assists.