Thursday, October 06, 2005

WCHA Preview - 10. Michigan Tech Huskies

I was lucky enough to get some dedicated WCHA fans to volunteer their knowledge for this preview. Tim Braun is a Michigan Tech fan. Braun is known as the guy who founded Mitch's Misfits, a group of Tech students/hockey fans who are trying to follow in the footsteps of the UMD Penalty Box, a rowdy group that got their name by drinking fellow fans under the table while also traveling to the ends of the earth to see their team play. The Misfits organized a trip to Duluth last year to watch Tech sweep UMD, and one has to think more is on the horizon, as the group tries to inject some atmosphere into the Macinnes Student Ice Arena. Anyway, here is the Michigan Tech preview, with some serious assistance from Tim Braun.

Last year: 8-25-4 overall, 7-19-2 WCHA (10th). Lost to Denver in WCHA first round.
Coach: Jamie Russell, third season (16-50-9)
Top returnees
Forwards: Brandon Schwartz (10-16-26), Chris Conner (14-10-24), Tyler Shelast (11-8-19)
Defensemen: Lars Helminen (8-24-32)
Goalies: None (Kevin Hachey [0-1-0, 5.88 GAA, .714 in 41 minutes])
Top newcomers: Rob Nolan, G (Runner up for Canadian Junior POY, 27-13-4, 1.75 GAA, .929); Mike Teslak , G (21-9-0, 2.47 GAA, .931); Justin St. Louis F (31-28-59); Ryan Angelow F (46-26-72); Alex Lord F
Biggest losses: Colin Murphy, F (Hobey Baker Finalist, 11-42-53); Cam Ellsworth G (7-18-3, 3.23 GAA, .916)

Assess your team’s 2004-2005 season. What went right and what went wrong?:
Michigan Tech had a dismal first half in 2004. The offense scored goals and the team had 2 goal leads late in games but the goalies didn’t play a full 60 minutes. As quoted by Head Coach Jamie Russell, “Our goalies couldn’t stop a beach ball.” After Cam Ellsworth stepped up and started playing stellar between the pipes, the rest of the team became more confident and had a great second half. They held the National Champs (Denver) to one goal in two games to start the second half in Denver and also swept Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth on the road. Home success was rare and disappointing.

Assess your team’s overall strengths:
The powerplay has been a strength of this team since Jamie Russell arrived and even with the loss of pointman Colin Murphy, I don’t expect that to change much this season. Tyler Shelast is scrappy around the net and finding those rebounds and putting them home, Brandon Schwartz is put in a great position to use is Slap Shot on the onetimer and Helminen will take over as quarterback this year.

Assess your team’s overall weaknesses:
Michigan Tech will be very young behind the blueline. Their 3 goalies have 41 total minutes between the pipes at the college level. On Defense, Helminen will be expected to play 30+ minutes a game. 5 of the other 6 defensemen that will suit up for the first 14 games will be sophomores or freshmen (Senior Defensemen, John Scott, was suspended by the team for 14 games)

What is the best-case scenario for your team this year?:
Best case scenario finds all of the seniors stepping up and having career years (that hasn’t happened to an entire class since 1998) while the freshmen goalies find their feet quickly. Pipe dreams find the team fighting for home ice but I don’t really see them doing better than 7th this year. This team is full of “Jamie Russell guys.” Not all of them were recruited by Russell but everyone on this roster has bought into his systems. Last year and this offseason saw many faces leave the program early, but those guys didn’t fit and actually probably hurt the team. That should make for better team chemistry and translate into more Wins this year.

Put your cowbell down and stop yelling at that poor goalie. Be as objective as you can possibly stand to be. Where will your team finish in the WCHA and why?:
The team lost one of the best players in the history of MTU in Colin Murphy so it is hard to expect things to be better than last year but MTU was very close to getting out of the basement and I think the team is more similar to their second half of last year than their first half. The key to everything is how well the offense controls the game while the young defense and goalies get comfortable in the WCHA. As objective as I can be, I predict MTU to get out of the basement and finish 9th.

Bruce's analysis:
Tech was better in the second half a year ago, and it wasn't all about Murphy and Ellsworth. The young talent on this team finally started to pull together, which has to make Russell optimistic, even though this is largely an uncertain time that he is about to begin. The Huskies have 18 underclassmen and 10 freshmen on the roster, and Ellsworth's departure, along with Bryce Luker leaving the program, leaves a huge hole in goal. Scott's suspension would normally invite jokes about Tech having one less traffic cone on the blue line, but Scott played well at times a year ago, and now the Huskies have Helminen on defense and not much else. I may be in the minority (actually, based on the previews I'm reading, I am), but I think Tech's youth all over and inexperience in goal (as Tim mentions, three goalies on the MTU roster have combined for 41 minutes of collegiate goaltending) relegates them to a last-place finish, though the reality is that Russell has the program heading in the right direction.

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