With the holidays behind us and a blizzard moving its way across the Northeast region, the BC Eagles Men’s Hockey Team heads out west to Last Vegas to compete in the inaugural Ice Vegas Invitational. The Eagles will kick off their campaign by first playing against the Michigan Tech Huskies before playing either the Arizona State Sun Devils or the Northern Michigan Wildcats dependent on outcome. As these are not opponents that BC is very familiar with, we decided to go ahead and reach out to each team’s blog to get a peek into what to expect from each of the teams this weekend.
1) Midway through the season, how has the team played in comparison to your preseason expectations?
NMU: NMU was picked in the bottom half of the WCHA preseason polls, which wasn’t surprising. Last season, the Wildcats needed a late run to even make the playoffs and they lost a lot of key seniors along with their best player in Dominik Shine, who is now in the AHL. They were also starting the season with a new coach in Grant Potulny and a new offensive style, so a lot of people were keeping their expectations low. I picked them fourth, so their success wasn’t entirely shocking to me compared to others, but I definitely didn’t see them contending for first place at the start of the year.
Michigan Tech: From where I thought they would be preseason, about the same, but after the performance in the first three games (HOF game @ Wisconsin and in the Icebreaker Tournament), its been a little below that. The new head coach, Joe Shawhan, is still learning how to run the whole program and get the most of out his team and they’ve struggled to find consistency.
ASU: Coming into this season, it was hard to really predict how the season would go and as such it was tough to have concrete expectations, mainly due to how young the team is. That being said, on more of a game-by-game and series-by-series level, I would say that this season has fallen short of my expectations thus far. They have lost some home games they probably shouldn’t have to teams with less talent who just outworked them, and they have struggled mightily on the road. They’re defensive play has been inconsistent but Joey Daccord, ASU’s goalie and a North Andover, Mass. native, has been spectacular. They’re close, they just haven’t quite worked out that winning formula yet.
2) Who has had the biggest improvement from last season?
NMU: There are quite a few, but I’d go with Robbie Payne. Payne’s career high heading into the year was 13 goals and he already has 16 so far this season, which is tied for first in the nation. This new fast-paced system that Potulny installed has really helped him showcase his abilities and he’s gotten better on both the PP and PK.
Michigan Tech: On offense, there are a couple juniors who have really stepped up their game. Jake Jackson is the leading scoring and has already eclipsed his point total from last year (He did get hurt).
ASU: Being that the team is so new from last year with all of the freshmen, it’s tougher to answer this one because some of the top performers weren’t on the team a year ago. That being said, Brett Gruber has been a guy who has stood out to me. As a sophomore returning from last year he has already nearly matched his point total from last season and he just seems to score big goals in big situations. On this team the sophomores have to be leaders and he has been big so far this year.
3) Who are some of the players that BC should keep their eyes on during this tournament?
NMU: Well, Payne is the obvious one. However, Darien Craighead has also emerged as a quality scoring threat and picked up a hat trick right before Christmas against Ferris State. Troy Loggins also fires a lot of shots on net and has some good speed. NMU is tied for first in the nation with five shorties and Loggins has two of them. Finally, Adam Rockwood is a great set-up guy. He’s not known for being a scorer, but has 16 assists. Rockwood also can make some nice moves to deke out defenders and then finds the open guy.
Michigan Tech: If Jackson does play, his speed and skills will be on full display. His line (including Brent Baltus and Alex Smith) has been a lot of fun to watch along with Gavin Gould and Jake Lucchini. On defense, depth has been a bit of an issue since losing Keegan Ford to an injury but Mitch Reinke is probably the best blueliner. He had a +4 rating in the GLI semifinal.
ASU: A few guys to keep an eye on are G Joey Daccord, F Johnny Walker, and D Jakob Stridesberg. Daccord has been good for a few highlight-reel saves per game so far this season and even when the rest of the team plays poorly he always seems to bring his A game. Walker is a freshman who is just a really exciting player to watch. He doesn’t necessarily start every night with how much depth coach Powers has at the forward position, but when he does find his way in the lineup, watch out. He can lose his discipline at times but he has also made some huge plays for such a young guy, overall he is just a really passionate player. Stridesberg is one of the more seasoned players on the team as a junior and he can really shoot the puck. He is tied for the team lead in goals and is scoring on about 20% of his shots all as a defenseman so really just an electric player.
4) What does the team have to do to come away victorious in the tournament?
NMU: Just play consistently well. NMU picks up splits on a regular basis primarily due to inconsistency. They’ll look really good one night and then off the next, or vice versa. If they can play at a high level both nights this weekend, they have a good chance of winning it.
Michigan Tech: Michigan Tech wins with their speed, getting up and down the ice quickly, creating turnovers and odd-man rushes. If BC plays an open style and doesn’t shutdown Michigan Tech’s transition the Eagles will be in trouble. BGSU is one of the few teams that has really made MTU look bad and locked them down offensively this season. If it is a free flowing game, MTU will expect to outscore BC.
ASU: One of the big issues ASU has had this season has been their special teams. The penalty kill has been pretty solid lately and are over 80% for the season at around 83% but the power play has just not been able to hit its stride hanging around 10% right now. When they have won and been successful this season it has been games where they are scoring power play goals (they have ppg’s in 3 of the 4 wins and were 0/1 in the win where they didn’t). So to win they just need to play disciplined and capitalize on opportunities, as simple as it sounds that has been a huge issue for them. The goalie play has been there and they are getting chances, just a matter of finishing.
5) What are you final thoughts and predictions on the outcome for the team during their tourney run?
NMU: As far as a prediction, I think they’ll get past Arizona State, but Saturday is a question mark. The Wildcats know Michigan Tech really well since the Huskies are their rival and they’ve split with them once already this year. If NMU gets the Huskies, I think the Wildcats will win. If they get BC, it’s hard to say.
Michigan Tech: If MTU can get some quality goaltending, I would predict MTU to beat BC 4-3 with 4 goals being their magic number this season, but what do I know? I’m a bit of a homer.
ASU: I think Northern Michigan is going to be a real challenge for them and I think they’ll probably lose but they can skate with anyone when they play their game so it also wouldn’t shock me if they pulled off an upset. As for the second game, I think that they will probably lose to BC if they play each other but they have hung with some tough teams this year so they truly are a wild card. Joey Daccord will play well and give them a chance to shock some people, it just comes down to their execution.
Thanks again to all of you guys for taking the time to answer some questions from BCI! As a quick plug, here are the links to their team’s blogs:
Ryan Stieg (NMU) - The Mining Journal
Justin Gaither (ASU) - The House of Sparky
Tim Braun (Michigan Tech) - Tech Hockey Guide