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HOUGHTON, Mich. — Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
For No. 15 Michigan Tech, two heroes emerged Friday night as diminutive forward Max Vallis scored two goals and tall goaltender Jamie Phillips made 31 saves in earning a shutout as the Huskies picked up a key 3-0 win at home over Lake Superior State at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
“I thought we did a good job of grinding it out, finding a way to get goals,” said MTU coach Mel Pearson. “We had the puck a lot tonight. When you are playing with the puck a lot, you are going to create some more turnovers and I thought we tried to do too much at times.”
With the win, the Huskies improved to 5-4-1 at home and into a tie with Bowling Green for second in the WCHA standings.
For Lakers coach Damon Whitten, it was a bittersweet return to the rink he spent many nights in as an assistant coach.
“Obviously, we have come in as an offensively-challenged team and that showed tonight,” said Whitten. “I didn’t mind parts of our game. I don’t think we are far away. I thought they got a little bit too easy offense. We have to do a better job.”
The Huskies broke the scoreless tie just 1:57 into the second period. Vallis, who had just one goal on the season coming in, took a pass in the slot from Reid Sturos, who got control of the puck near the blue line. Vallis wound up and unloaded a slapshot that beat LSSU goalie Gordon Defiel over the left shoulder.
“Reid made a good play up at the blue line,” said Vallis. “I was starting to backcheck and it kind of just popped to me. All I thought was just kind of turn and throw it on net. I kind of just turned and took a slap shot and it was lucky and found the back of the net.”
Vallis struck again near the end of the period. Taking a pass from Sturos, Vallis skated around a Lakers’ defender before shooting from what appeared to be an impossible angle. The puck hit Defiel before crossing the goal line at 17:54.
“Going into a period up 2-0 definitely helps,” said Vallis. “We are going to have to be a lot better tomorrow in the second and third period if we want to pull out a win.”
The Huskies (15-7-5 overall, 12-6-3 WCHA) came flying out of the gates to start the game and nearly completely overwhelmed the Lakers over the course of their first three shifts. However, the Huskies were unable to get many pucks through to Defiel.
Michigan Tech did have a close sequence just over three minutes in when Alex Gillies carried the puck in the offensive zone and attempted to feed it to Jake Lucchini, whose backhand beat Defiel, but not a Lakers’ defender, who knocked it away. The puck then skittered to Brent Baltus, whose shot attempt sailed through the crease.
Lake Superior State (9-16-4 overall, 6-9-4 WCHA) settled in over the next couple of minutes and started to sustain some pressure in the Huskies’ zone. However, none of their four shots on goal were particularly challenging for Phillips, who appeared dialed in, picking up his second shutout of the season.
The Huskies had another nice scoring chance when Mark Auk carried the puck into the offensive zone about 11 minutes in. He slowed, turned to his forehand, and looked to make a pass. When nothing opened up for him, he fired a wrist shot on goal from the right circle.
Michigan Tech’s Malcolm Gould had a quality scoring chance a minute and a half later when Dylan Steman won the draw to him in the left circle. Gould carried the puck into the slot before firing a shot on goal.
After the Huskies took the lead in the middle frame, Kyle Chatham had a quality scoring chance when he had help skating to the net. Chatham fired a shot from the right boards that Phillips stopped with his chest.
At the other end of the rink a little over a minute later, Baltus took a pass across the slot from Gillies, but his tip was stopped by Defiel, who stopped another tip, this time from co-captain Alex Petan after a shot from Gould at the blue line.
Defiel finished the night with 24 saves.
The Lakers’ Diego Cuglietta found open ice in the slot, but his wrist shot was stopped by Phillips.
Two and a half minutes later, the Huskies nearly scored when a shot from the left point hit Baltus in the slot and beat Defiel. The puck did not beat the right post, however.
Mike Neville was set on a breakaway by a pass from MTU co-captain Cliff Watson with about nine minutes left in the period. He deked to his backhand, but was stopped.
A little over two and a half minutes later, the Huskies had another good scoring chance when Sturos got loose and skated in alone on Defiel. His initial shot was stopped and the rebound kicked right back to him. He shot again, this time hitting the post.
The Lakers had a couple of good scoring chances in sequence early in the third period that started with Cuglietta firing a shot that Phillips blockered to the back boards. The puck then bounced off the back wall and right out front to Alex Globke, whose shot just climbed over the net.
Michigan Tech extended its lead to three 6:39 in when Matt Roy took a pass at the right point from Steman. Looking at the net, Roy wired a wrist shot over Defiel’s right shoulder for the tally.
With Petan in the penalty box shortly after the Huskies’ goal, the Lakers had a couple scoring chances. The first was a tip by Gage Torrel off a shot from Owen Headrick. The second was a backhand attempt by J.T. Henke off a faceoff win by Cuglietta.
With the loss, the Lakers are now winless in their last four games.