HUNTSVILLE — Four Michigan Tech Huskies (4-3-0, 4-3-0 WCHA) scored goals on Friday night, relying on a speed advantage that kept the homestanding Alabama-Huntsville Chargers (3-3-1, 2-2-1 WCHA) scrambling to keep up at times. The visiting Huskies maintained their tie atop the WCHA standings with a 4-2 win over UAH.
If you’re a UAH fan, you loved the first ten minutes of the game. Sophomore forward Josh Kestner (Huntsville) led off scoring his second goal of the season just 1:21 into the game, feeding off of the energy of a back-in-the lineup Brent Fletcher (New Westminster, B.C.) and the freedom of moving freshman forward Hans Gorowsky (Lino Lakes, Minn.) over to left wing. Tech looked off-guard from the event.
Sophomore forward Joel L’Esperance (Brighton, Mich.) knotted the game at 1-1 just 3:14 later, taking a smart pass from sophomore Alex Gillies (Vernon, B.C.) and flashing some speed and hands to move the puck past UAH junior goaltender Matt Larose (Nanaimo, B.C.), who had little help on the play.
The struggles for UAH began after junior forward Cody Marooney (Eden Prairie, Minn.) took a slashing penalty at 10:40. The infraction, one of five called on the night, gave Tech the chance to take the lead, and they did so. Junior assistant captain and defenseman Shane Hanna (Salmon Arm, B.C.) rifled a shot towards Larose (36sv) that was tipped by senior captain and forward Alex Petan (Delta, B.C.). Junior forward Tyler Heinonen (Delano, Minn.) got the secondary assist for finding Hanna at the point.
Special teams continued to be the bane of UAH’s existence on the night. UAH would go scoreless on all five tries on the night, never getting much sustained pressure with the advantage. Worse yet, the Chargers gave up a short-handed goal at 15:14, falling behind 3-1 when junior forward Brent Baltus (Nanaimo, B.C.) broke free and pushed the puck past Larose (1-1-0).
From there, the Chargers never really recovered.
Sophomore defenseman Brandon Parker (Faribault, Minn.) finally netted his first collegiate goal. Parker appeared to just be making a long dump toward Husky senior goaltender Jamie Phillips (Caledonia, Ont.), but Phillips did not properly track the puck, which ended up in his net after 120 feet of travel. But Parker’s puckish pasty was the lone bright spot.
Negatives from the final two frames:
- Anemic work from the power play, including making Larose stop more than one shorthanded attempt.
- Ending their own man advantage on a bench minor for too many men. I think that this one was silly, because both teams had too many bodies on the ice for the brief second where it looked that Larose was going to leak the puck to a teammate for a press up the ice on the left-wing boards (opposite the benches). But it just goes to a core weakness for UAH over the last few years, and that’s picking up this bench minor time and again.
- Fletcher’s checking-from-behind major penalty that saw him removed from the game and freshman defenseman Cam Knight (North Reading, Mass.) given a holding minor on the same infraction. I was very surprised that Messrs. Langseth and Elam took two UAH players yet no Tech player from that fracas. UAH is to be commended for a strong kill of the penalty.
- Getting outshot 14-3 in the third when they needed to be giving the pressure, not receiving it. The major penalty does not completely explain the disparity.
Phillips (4-3-0, 16sv) got an assist on the final goal of the game, as sophomore forward Mason Blacklock (White Rock, B.C.) netted his second of the year at 13:59 of the 3rd. Senior forward Malcolm Gould (North Vancouver, B.C.) got the primary assist.
The questions for UAH on Saturday are these:
- How poorly will the game be attended opposite BAMA-LSU?
- Who starts for UAH? Larose had some strong stretches, and he did stop 36/40, but the fact of the matter is that he gave up four or more goals in all but two of his starts last year (at Air Force on November 8th and at Bowling Green on March 7th). Saturday’s shutout against Lake Superior was fun to see, and it was an exemplar of the goalie that he can be. But which is the real Larose: tonight or last weekend? One figures that a non-dominant performance from the big man opens the door for junior goaltender Carmine Guerriero (Montréal, Qué.) to get a start.
- It’s hard to know, though, what’s in the minds of either of those two men or, for that matter, the coaches’ minds. It’s still too early to call this a goalie controversy — maybe it would’ve been one if Larose had been dominant tonight. That I’m even writing about this surprises me, because 1) peak Carmine is a sight to behold 2) I always thought that it was going to be Larose to pull away, not Carmine 3) c’mon, really, this felt settled. But it’s here.
- Who shuffles in and out of the lineup? Will Mike Corbett try to slow the pace down or simply tighten his system up? It feels to me that he had the right 21 guys dressed tonight.
Here’s a final note: what is with goaltending in the WCHA this year? It’s early, small sample sizes, etc., but:
- WCHA had five goalies in the top 20 in the nation by GAA in 2014-15: MSU’s Stephon Williams (#2, 1.65), MTU’s Phillips (3, 1.74), BSU’s Michael Bitzer (4, 1.80), UAF’s Sean Cahill (8, 1.98), and CJ Motte (18, 2.07).
- Through tonight (with NMU-UAF ongoing and UAF up 3-1): Chris Nell at BGSU is 3rd at 1.09, and Atte Tolvanen came into tonight at 1.99, a total that will rise. Past that it’s freshman Darren Smith at Ferris State at 2.40 (even after giving up four goals tonight).
- You have to get to Bitzer at 2.55 and Phillips at 2.56 to get to guys that are full-time starters. That’s a big, big drop. Could it be better scoring in the WCHA? Phillips’s mark actually came down tonight.
All of this occurred to me when I saw a 7-4 box score come out of Big Rapids. The Bulldogs scored just four goals against Mankato last year, dropping 2-1, 3-1, 5-1, and 5-1 results in the span of fifteen days in January.
It’s something to watch. Back at you tomorrow night.