Weekend Preview: UND at Michigan Tech

Last season was Mel Pearson’s first as head coach of the Michigan Tech Huskies, and by all accounts, his rookie campaign was a success. Pearson brought energy, enthusiasm, and a new brand of hockey to Houghton, and his team responded with a 6-2-1 start. MTU ended the season by dispatching Colorado College in two games to join its band at the WCHA Final Five for the first time since 2007.

The year before Pearson arrived at MacInnes Ice Arena, the Huskies won four games (4-30-4). Last season, Michigan Tech posted a respectable 16-19-4 record and earned the eighth spot in the league standings, just two points out of the final home ice spot held by St. Cloud State. MTU has never hosted the first round of the WCHA playoffs under the current format.

For the record, Mel Pearson spent the 23 seasons as an assistant coach at Michigan and was behind the bench for the Wolverines 2-0 Frozen Four victory over North Dakota in April 2011 (St. Paul, MN). MTU assistant coach Bill Muckalt and goaltending coach Steve Shields are former Michigan players. Pearson played his college hockey at Michigan Tech.

UND fans may not recognize this year’s version of the Huskies, as Brett Olson (93 points in 127 career games) and Jordan Baker (82 points in 146 games) have both graduated after seemingly playing at MTU forever. Michigan Tech is very young up front, as their top five scoring forwards are first or second year players.

After this season, it is unclear whether North Dakota and Michigan Tech will continue their storied rivalry. UND will move to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, while MTU will remain in the WCHA and maintain ownership of the historic MacNaughton Cup.

Michigan Tech Team Profile

Head Coach: Mel Pearson (2nd season at MTU, 20-27-7, .435)
Pairwise Ranking: NR
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 4-8-3 overall, 3-6-3 WCHA (t-8th)
Last Season: 16-9-4 overall, 11-13-4 WCHA (8th)

Team Offense: 2.87 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 3.53 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 17.9% (12 of 67)
Penalty Kill: 75.8% (50 of 66)

Key Players: Freshman F Alex Petan (4-9-13), Sophomore F Blake Pietila (9-2-11), Sophomore F David Johnstone (3-8-11), Senior D Steven Seigo (4-4-8), Junior D Brad Stebner (1-4-5), Senior G Kevin Genoe (3-1-3, 2.83 GAA, .909 SV%)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (9th season at UND, 221-111-33, .651)
Pairwise Ranking: 10th
National Rankings: #8/#8
This Season: 8-5-3 overall, 5-2-3 WCHA (t-5th)
Last Season: 26-13-3 overall (NCAA West Regional Finalist), 16-11-1 WCHA (4th)

Team Offense: 3.12 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.62 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 15.6% (10 of 64)
Penalty Kill: 84.5% (49 of 58)

Key Players: Senior F Danny Kristo (6-9-15), Sophomore F Mark MacMillan (6-6-12), Senior F Corban Knight (5-12-17), Freshman F Rocco Grimaldi (6-9-15), Junior D Derek Forbort (4-5-9), Sophomore D Nick Mattson (1-6-7), Junior G Clarke Saunders (6-3-3, 2.39 GAA, .916 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: February 18, 2012 (Grand Forks, ND). The two squads had to settle for a 1-1 tie one night after North Dakota won the opener 4-2. Michigan Tech’s Jordan Baker scored a lucky goal off his chest midway through the third period that gave the Huskies one point. MTU rang three shots off the post in the opening frame, while UND forward Corban Knight potted the lone goal for the Green and White early in the third period.

Last meeting in Houghton: March 5, 2011. North Dakota absolutely destroyed MTU on consecutive nights, winning 6-1 and 11-2. Friday night’s win clinched the MacNaughton Cup for visiting UND, but there was no letdown in Saturday’s finale or in the first round playoff games between the schools in Grand Forks the following weekend (8-0 and 3-1 victories). The Malone-Frattin-Trupp line collected six goals and eight assists in the weekend series.

Most Important Meeting: The Sioux and Huskies have never met in the NCAA tournament, so I will go with the most important meeting that never was: in 1965, the Sioux lost to Boston College, 4-3, one game short of the national championship game, where they would have faced the Michigan Tech Huskies, who won the second of their three titles by defeating the Eagles. UND settled for third place that season, downing Brown University, 9-5. North Dakota went 13-3-0 in the regular season in 1964-65, with two of those three losses coming at the hands of Michigan Tech.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 145-93-10 (.605), including a slight 61-55-5 (.525) edge in games played in Houghton. The teams first met in 1948.

Last Ten: North Dakota is 9-0-1 (.950) in the last ten meetings between the schools and undefeated in the last 14 (12-0-2). The Green and White have outscored the Huskies 49-13 in the last ten games. The last time Michigan Tech defeated UND was in the first round of the WCHA playoffs in March 2008 (Grand Forks, ND). MTU took the middle game of the three-game series, but North Dakota came back to win on Sunday night to advance to the Final Five.

Game News and Notes

UND head coach Dave Hakstol is 23-5-2 (.800) in his coaching career against Michigan Tech. Either North Dakota or the University of Denver has ended the Huskies’ year each of the past five seasons. UND senior forward Corban Knight is riding an eleven game point streak. Saturday’s rematch will mark the 250th game played between the two storied programs.

The Prediction

Everything points to a UND sweep in this one, but both games will be closer than recent history suggests. Dave Hakstol has his team playing its best hockey of the season, but North Dakota will need to come back late in at least one of these tilts. UND 4-2, 3-2.

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