Coming into their WCHA quarterfinal series with the No. 7 Lake Superior State Lakers, the No. 2 Michigan Tech Huskies’ offense had been firing at a paltry 2.71 goals per game.
On Friday, the Huskies’ offense broke through in a big way with five goals in the first period and six goals total in a 6-4 win. With the chance to eliminate the Lakers on Saturday, the Huskies offense was even better, as Michigan Tech got eight goals from seven different scorers en route to an 8-0 win at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
The Huskies’ line of sophomore Jake Jackson and assist captains Michael Neville and Reid Sturos accounted for three goals and eight points on Friday. On Saturday, they were nearly as good, striking twice and adding three more assists.
Two of the three were on the ice for the key goal while short-handed in the second period. Assistant captain Shane Hanna dumped the puck into the offensive zone in a place where Sturos could get to it. Sturos then found Neville in the slot and he beat a Lakers’ defender and then deked to his backhand to beat Lakers goaltender Gordon Defiel at 8:34.
Neville, who has been a key penalty killer for the Huskies throughout his career, enjoys playing with Sturos and Jackson.
“We’re just having fun out there I think,” said Neville. “We are playing with a lot of speed. We are giving defensemen a lot of trouble down low. We are not spending a lot of time in our own end. As soon as we bring the puck back up the ice, I think that’s when the game gets exciting for us.”
Sturos picked up the game-winning goal just 3:30 into the contest. Captain Cliff Watson fed him the puck on a breakout along the right boards. Sturos then hit Jackson in stride and worked hard to try to catch up to him. Sturos’ hard work paid off when Jackson fed him the puck in the slot for a quick shot.
Sturos enjoys having to try to keep up with the speedy Jackson.
“It’s fun playing with him,” said Sturos. “Neville and I always joke that he winds it up. Neville and I can just give him the puck and he winds it up. It’s nice playing with him.”
Their line was not the only one to get going Saturday night, as winger Joel L’Esperance, who skated on a line with junior Alex Gillies and freshman Alex Smith, struck twice, including one at 18:38 of the first period on a power play to put the Huskies up 2-0 when he tipped a shot from junior Matt Roy.
The Huskies’ unit of freshman Gavin Gould, senior Chris Leibinger, and freshman Thomas Beretta accounted for a pair of goals as well. Gould struck on a power play 5:49 into the third period, and Leibinger’s tally came at 12:08 of the third, just 18 seconds after junior Mark Auk gave Michigan Tech a 6-0 lead.
Coach Mel Pearson was pleased with the effort the Huskies put in offensively.
“I liked our overall team effort,” said Pearson. “It is good to get some goals and get some confidence. Tonight, things went in, but it wasn’t as easy as last night. We had to continue to grind and battle.”
Hanna potted the Huskies’ fourth goal of the night during an extended four-on-four. He was set up by a pass from Neville.
Lakers coach Damon Whitten admitted that despite a strong season, his Lakers still have a long way to go to get to the level the Huskies’ offense performed throughout the weekend.
“I think that is probably the most frustrating part when you look at the score tonight,” said Whitten. “It feels like you take a couple of steps backwards.”
The Huskies will wait to see who they will be hosting next weekend in the WCHA semifinals.
No. 8 Northern Michigan 4, at No. 1 Bemidji State 2
With their backs against the wall, the Wildcats scored three of the game’s first four goals. Shane Sooth struck late in the first period and he was joined in the second by Gerard Hanson and Dominik Shine. Shine added one more into the empty net to seal the game. Nate Arentz and Dan Billet both scored for the Beavers.
The squads faceoff for a game three Sunday.
No. 3 Minnesota State 4, No. 6 Alaska 1
Jordan Nelson and Zeb Knutson put the Mavericks up 2-0 going into the third period against the Nanooks. After a goal from Alaska’s Ross Heidt, Max Coatta struck twice in 4:34 to seal the game and series win for the Mavericks. Jason Pawloski was strong in goal, stopping 29 of 30 Nanooks’ shots.
No. 4 Bowling Green 5, No. 5 Ferris State 3
In a wild affair, the Falcons scored three times in the final 2:48 to seal the series. Trailing 3-2 despite goals from Joe McKeown and Pierre-Luc Mercier, it took power-play goals from Kevin Dufour and Alex Rauhauser 36 seconds apart and one more from Tyler Spezia with 34 seconds left to seal the win. Mitch Maloney, Jason Tackett, and Trevor Recktenwald scored for the Bulldogs.