Michigan Tech preparing for confident, red-hot Northern Michigan in CCHA semifinals
Wildcats head coach Grant Potulny says keeping emotions in check after the whistle will be important against Huskies.
Michigan Tech head coach Joe Shawhan received some messages this week. They said don’t look past Northern Michigan, the team the Huskies host in a Mason Cup semifinal game at 5:07 p.m. (CT) Saturday in Houghton.
“We are even teams,” he said on the “Joe Shawhan Hour,” his weekly radio show. “We rely on our goaltender and the character within the group. I don’t take anything lightly.”
That goaltender is Blake Pietila, who backstopped a sweep against a feisty St. Thomas club last weekend in a pair of one-goal games. Named a Mike Richter Award finalist on Thursday, Pietila has had to make 30 or more stops in his last four games, going 3-1 and adding two more shutouts to his nation-leading 10.
Sometimes you get a gut feeling that you’re going to play great, I think we’re gonna play great.
“It’s still amazing to me, but a lot of that has just been reliant on timely scoring,” Shawhan said. “We’ve got a good group of guys who find games to win like we did this (past) weekend.”
If Pietila isn’t shutting the door, Ryland Mosley and freshman Kyle Kukkonen each have three short-handed goals. The team has the third-strongest defense in the country at 2.05 goals-per-game.
"We know them as well as we know anybody," Northern Michigan head coach Grant Potulny said.
Potulny, whose team is riding a six-game winning streak and has scored 5.7 gpg during that stretch, is looking forward to a boisterous crowd at MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
“You embrace it,” Potulny said. “We’re gonna play a great game. Sometimes you get a gut feeling that you’re going to play great, I think we’re gonna play great.”
But there is one message he's sending to his team: Stay out of the penalty box if emotions run hot after the whistle.
"Let's just say there's a scrum and after a whistle, you can't fight college hockey. So that whole element of the game has been removed. But even every time you just kind of come together, what does the crowd do?" Potulny said, motioning his arms upward. "So you're just igniting their crowd.
“We’ve just got to turn and skate away, and you’ve got to play whistle-to-whistle. You’ve got to win the game whistle-to-whistle, and after the whistle, it's hard for you to win the game, but you can sure lose it. So we just got to stay out of it.”
It’s a different vibe this season for Tech, Shawhan said, who has a career-high 24 wins this season, the most since Mel Pearson won 29 behind the Huskies’ bench in 2014-15.
“You have to be your best when your best is needed,” Shawhan said. “That’s part of our pyramid that we focus on with our group. We have to keep emphasizing that.”
For Northern Michigan, David Keefer brings his team-high 15 goals and Andre Ghantous has 36 points. In net, freshman Beni Halasz is 18-14-0 with a 2.37 goals-against-average and a .916 save percentage and was one of the league's top goaltenders with a six-win, 2.14 GAA in February.
Ghantous has been on a roll, too. Since Feb. 1, he leads the CCHA with 14 points in those 10 games.
"Yeah, definitely," Potulny said about Ghantous, "and it’s the right time for it. Andre is hot. You know, even like [last] Saturday he had two breakaways. You know what I mean? He's just he's all over the rink and he's probably been our most consistent player this year. And now we're hitting that stride. You know if he can continue that, if he can keep that up. I really like our chances.”
Besides their recent success in the offensive zone, the Wildcats also own the best penalty-kill team in the nation since Jan. 20. They've scored more short-handed goals (4) than power-play goals allowed (3), killing off 46 of 49 attempts in that span for a 93.5% success rate.
Last season, the second-seeded Huskies lost to Bemidji State in the Mason Cup semifinals but still earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Northern Michigan hasn't won a conference tournament since 1992.
Michigan Tech is a virtual lock to advance to the NCAA tournament, regardless of how the Mason Cup plays out. According to PairWise Probability Matrix , Tech’s odds of making the field are 100%.
For Northern Michigan, it’s almost a certainty the team needs to get through Michigan Tech and the Minnesota State-Ferris State winner to get into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.
- Records: MT 24-9-4, NMU 20-16-0
- Goals leader: MT (Kyle Kukkonen 18), NMU (David Keefer 15)
- Points leader: MT (Ryland Mosley 31), NMU (Andre Ghantous 36)
- Power play: MT 13.6%, NMU 23.6%
- Penalty kill: MT 86.7%, NMU 85.1%
- Prediction: Northern Michigan 3-2 (OT)