Last week Northern Michigan beat writer Matt Wellens was kind enough to drop by to talk some hockey with Bucky's 5th Quarter before the season opener against the Wildcats. This week we were treated to Michigan Tech beat writer Stephen Anderson, (@steander) from the Daily Mining Gazette.
After a split with Northern Michigan last weekend, the Badgers travel to Houghton to take on Michigan Tech in their first WCHA series of the season. Last weekend the Huskies swept American International, and are looking to continue their winning ways with the Badgers coming to town.
With a new head coach in the UP, Tech is looking to make some noise in the WCHA. Let's see what Stephen has to say about the Huskies and this weekends series.
B5Q: Michigan Tech opened their season with a home sweep of American International. I think we would both agree that AIC is far from powerhouse, but how did the Huskies look on opening weekend?
Anderson: This time of year, all teams are trying to find their identity. The Huskies are no exception, especially playing a drastically different style under new head coach Mel Pearson. Tech plays a much more open, fast-paced style of offense that encourages defenders to step up into the play offensively. At times, that created defensive zone breakdowns over the weekend. As expected, special teams were still a work in progress, but showed positive signs during a 3-for-4 power play Friday.
The Huskies will still look to create offensively, but defense and discipline has been the point of emphasis in practice this week, particularly after the team took several bad penalties during the weekend.
One thing I really took out of last weekend is that Tech will play a full 60 minutes, regardless of the score. AIC opened up a 3-0 lead on the Huskies Friday night, but Tech bounced back to win 4-3 -- this year's team looks more resilient than those in recent years. They then learned to play with and maintain a lead on Saturday, even though they didn't play with the energy level Pearson wanted to see.
B5Q: I saw a tweet from you this week saying that Milos Gordic will not be suited up for this weekends games. He led the team in goals last season. Does that change the way the Huskies will play this weekend, and who will the Huskies look to for offense?
Anderson: Gordic is obviously a talented player who wreaks havoc in front of goaltenders, but this year's Huskies have been playing without him for a while, so I don't think it changes the way they play all that much. Gordic has been practicing after recovering from shoulder surgery, and he is being evaluated on a week-by-week basis.
Even though Tech is without Gordic, the Huskies have their other top seven goal scorers back from last year, including a healthy Brett Olson. Assistant captain and fifth-year senior Jordan Baker joins Olson on the top line, along with freshman Blake Pietila, an NHL draft pick of the New Jersey Devils who I should have voted for as WCHA preseason freshman of the year. He was the WCHA rookie of the week after scoring two goals and notching an assist last weekend.
Pearson is still experimenting with lines, and he's gone with an impressive looking all-freshman line at times with Pietila, Tanner Kero (local Hancock, Mich. native) and David Johnstone (whose brother Jacob had two goals against AIC). Ryan Furne and Patrick McCadden are also serious scoring threats for Tech. Defenseman Steven Seigo is Tech's biggest weapon from the blue line, particularly on the power play.
B5Q: Tech has a new coach this year with Mel Pearson, who was a long time assistant at Michigan. Have you noticed a culture change around the program?
Anderson: Genuinely, yes I have. I've grown up in the Copper Country and have seen the extent of the struggles in recent years (read: decades). Will a new coaching staff and a few new recruits all of a sudden jolt Tech to the top of the WCHA standings? No. But fans in the area are once again legitimately excited about hockey.
To give you an idea of how much so, nearly 3,000 fans packed the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena for Saturday's non-conference game against AIC. Less than 2,300 showed up on average for Tech's home series against Wisconsin last year.
Ultimately, I think people realize it will take a few years to fully get out of the cellar, but that will be just in time for conference realignment, when Tech could theoretically lead the new WCHA. Fans expect competitive hockey, and for the most part, I think they'll get that this year.
B5Q: Goaltenders Kevin Genoe and Josh Robinson split the games last weekend, much like they did all of last season. How did they look against AIC, and do you expect them to split action this weekend against the Badgers?
Anderson: Kevin Genoe allowed three quick goals Friday in what can only be described as a brutal first period. He rebounded nicely, and this year's coaching staff, advised by volunteer goalie coach Steve Shields, seems much more willing to let goalies work through rough periods.
Josh Robinson has had the better start to the season, and is coming off Saturday's game in which he stopped 32 of 33 shots against AIC. Pearson said he was the difference in the game.
I would expect split action this weekend, and I think goaltending has the potential to be a strength this year for Tech. Both goaltenders are upperclassmen with a wealth of experience, and if the defense can improve in front of them, they won't see as much rubber as in the past.
B5Q: Both teams are playing their first WCHA games of the season. What are your predictions for this series?
Anderson: This is the best possible weekend for Tech to be playing Wisconsin given the Badgers' youth. The Huskies will try to put a ton of pucks on the two freshmen netminders for Wisconsin, and Tech's veteran goaltending will help Tech steal an early-season split. Nobody really knows what to expect with either of these teams, as Tech has an entirely new system, and Wisconsin will battle inconsistency with so much youth. I'm calling a 3-2 Tech win Friday, and 4-2 Wisconsin win Saturday, which would be a big achievement for the Huskies.
We can't thank Stephen enough for taking the time to chat with us.