This weekend, the Chargers of Alabama Huntsville head north to Houghton Michigan to take on the Huskies of Michigan Tech. Head Coach Joe Shawhan’s team is one similar to Tech teams past. They defend really well, make you go through them to win, and get great goaltending. Blake Pietila, is looking to earn the full time job, but former Charger Mark Sinclair hopes to earn some of the net back. So far, from watching both play, Pietila has been markedly better, but Sinclair has a veteran pedigree and the ability to keep his team in games despite long stretches of being outshot, as Chargers fans would be the first to let you know.
One wrinkle these Huskies do have is their addition of RPI center Tristian Ashbrook. He has not been on a campus this year to practice with anyone because his now former school has been all remote, and he has had to train elsewhere. Shawhan mentioned that his conditioning is good so far, and that Huskies fans could see him take on the Chargers this weekend.
What does he bring to Houghton?
Simply the thing that this program has been in perpetual need of, goal scoring ability. Ashbrook’s speed and desire to camp out in the dangerous areas are a true addition to a Huskies team already plenty skilled at puck possesion and gap control.
How players like Coyotes’ draft pick Carson Bantle match up against the speed of the Chargers is what we will be watching for this weekend. The Huskies, on paper, have the better pedigree, but also have never faced a vast portion of this team. Of the returners, all of them have taken some step to get better, head among them being Bauer Neudecker, The speedy winger has helped the first line of the Chargers drive play forward, and has already put home two goals in four games to start this campaign. In addition, the team play of this group makes them much harder to defend than last year’s iteration of these Chargers. How Shawhan deploys his lines against this team will be an indication of how good he thinks each line is to some degree. For instance, if Bantle’s line draws Bronte’s line, then it will be clear that Shawhan thinks Bantle and company can shutdown the speed of Bronte and his wingers to turn play the other way. Deployment is a good test to see how coaches view their team, not just line chart locations.
A good show of improvement at the individual level is Neudecker’s work. Last year in 31 games played did not find the back of the net. In addition, playing on the line centered by Tyrone Bronte has given him the benefit of not being the fastest player on the ice for the Chargers. The biggest issue that the two opponents of UAH have faced in defending this team is dealing with its speed. That is the one area that the Chargers have an advantage on paper against this Michigan Tech side.
With that said, the Huskies have scored in waves this year when they have found twine and, like the Chargers tend to score by committee. For offense this is a four line team that the Chargers will face with defenders who can stay at home and keep the play going. On defense, these Chargers, to some degree or another know Sinclair’s tendencies as the returners have all practiced with him. Regarding Pietila, he has been the main person for these Huskies so far. When he is dialed in behind this defense, most teams in college hockey, regardless of their station will have to up their game to score. Expect no different for these Chargers. Reflexes are his best skill, and these Chargers will have to find ways to continue their improvement in net-front presence goals to generate more rebound looks.
Finally, if these Huskies can knock off a strong Bemidji State team, and an even better Minnesota State Mankato squad, then they are not to be taken lightly. This is a big series for these Chargers to set the tone for their final season in this WCHA. How they will be remembered in this conference starts with what they do this weekend. Their final chance to rise above their station and shock some people over these next few months all begins in Houghton.
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