MADISON, Wis. — The Michigan Tech Huskies are on the road to face the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers for a non-conference series this weekend. The Huskies are still looking for their first win of the year after opening their season with a pair of losses to Minnesota-Duluth, 2-1 and 5-2, at home.
The Badgers enter the weekend coming off a 7-1 win on the road against St Lawrence on Saturday following a 4-2 loss Friday to Clarkson.
The losses for the Huskies were learning experiences for the younger players.
“We’re seeing guys who are starting to see what it’s all about,” said head coach Joe Shawhan. “(They are) paying more attention to detail. There’s more execution, more compete. We’re starting to see some signs of the group forming into where we’re going. I think (with) the direction that we’re headed, we feel good.”
The Huskies come into the weekend looking to build chemistry, especially in their special teams.
Two seasons ago, the Huskies featured a seemingly unstoppable penalty kill pairing of seniors Reid Sturos and Michael Neville. Last season, the Huskies killed by committee as it took time to settle on players with the natural instinct to hang tough defensively.
“Prominently, it was Reid Sturos and Michael Neville (who) were just a tremendous defensive pairing,” said Shawhan. “(They) didn’t give up much. Everything we gave up virtually that whole year came when other people were on the ice. (We struggled) when they graduated, (so) we have to find some (personnel) to get (special teams to be) more successful.”
Shawhan hopes to see his young team operate more efficiently on the penalty kill to help cover the ice when needed.
“When you’re short a man, you have to win a battle,” he said. “You have to clear a puck and that’s a big part of it. (Our players) have got to be willing to do that.
Shawhan watched over the penalty kill in the final three seasons that Neville was on the team. He helped mold Neville, Sturos and C.J. Eick into some of the country’s top penalty killers. At one point, they were all part of the No. 2 penalty kill in the NCAA.
“I was the guy (running) it,” said Shawhan. “We’ll keep trying to find the answers.”
Shawhan wants his staff to keep working to find ways to maximize the players on roster.
Shawhan feels energized by the challenge laid out before him with the penalty killing problem.
“Our defense crew is young and in a lot of ways, inexperienced,” said Shawhan. “(It’s) good (to have) video to learn from and these are all lessons learned going forward. You hope that (practice) pays dividends and that we can improve on what we have to improve on.”
The Huskies face Wisconsin (3-1 overall) having had two weeks of practice for a young team with 11 new faces on the roster. The Badgers find themselves in a similar situation with nine newcomers of their own.
The Huskies fell to the Badgers 3-2 last season at the Olympic-sized Kohl Center in the U.S. Hall of Fame game but hope to come away with wins by adjusting quickly and working as a team.
“Limiting scoring chances (and) how quickly we can adjust to the big ice,” said Shawhan are the goals for his team on the weekend. “This is as big of ice (they’ll) see in college hockey, and that’s a big deal. (Also) how much we can support each other within our game and not leave people out to dry (by) having areas backed up and supported.”
The Badgers are led by a trio of sophomores who are all off to strong starts. The diminutive Sean Dhooghe, who stands 5-foot-3, leads the team in goals (5) and points (7). Tarek Baker is also off to a strong start with two goals and six points.
On the blue line, Wyatt Kalynuk has also gotten off to a good start with three goals and six points.
Junior Jack Berry has gotten the bulk of the ice time in goal, going 2-1-0 in three appearances with a 3.01 goals against average and an .897 save percentage.
The Huskies will face the Badgers at 8:07 p.m. both Friday and Saturday at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin.