DULUTH – Returning to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years is good for Michigan Tech, but they aren’t anywhere close to satisfied until they achieve bigger goals.
A nonconference win over No. 16 Union is a good start, especially to kick off a new coaching regime.
The Huskies, fresh off a 3-2 loss at Wisconsin on Sunday to open their season, put that behind them quickly and rode an early scoring barrage to a 6-3 victory over the Dutchmen in the first Ice Breaker semifinal on Friday.
Three Husky defensemen scored in the opening frame, and goaltender Patrick Munson played brilliant late, making 26 saves in the final two periods to finish with 35 and helping Michigan Tech advance to the championship game.
“I’m just excited that we were able to pull that game out,” said Huskies coach Joe Shawhan, who won his first game in charge. “It gives us an opportunity to get closer to what we want to do, which is advance at the end of the year. That’s the biggest thing.”
Anthony Rinaldi scored twice and Josh Kosack had a goal for Union, but its late shot barrage wasn’t enough to salvage a poor start.
“That’s two in a row for us,” said Dutchmen coach Rick Bennett, referring to another poor start in a 4-1 loss at No. 2 Boston University last weekend. “Hopefully we can fix that.”
Michigan Tech controlled play early, going up 1-0 when Mitch Meek threw a puck at the net, looking for a tip out front but getting it through traffic for his first collegiate goal.
The Dutchmen tied it when Tech turned it over on their offensive blue line, leading to Rinaldi scooping up the puck, breaking away and scoring on a backhand, beating Munson on his glove side.
“I just followed the defenseman; I ended up intercepting it and going in and scoring,” Rinaldi said.
MTU regained the lead just six minutes later as Dane Birks beat Union goaltender Jake Kupsky on a one-time blast from the left point. Mark Auk doubled the advantage less than three minutes later on a wrist shot from the left circle.
Despite going about 15 minutes between shots at one point in the second period, the Huskies were also able to score the period’s lone goal at 6:15 as Gavin Gould and Joel L’Esperance came in 2-on-1 with Gould centering it to L’Esperance for the easy tap-in.
The Huskies only had eight shots over the final two periods, and the lack of offensive zone time finally came back to haunt them as the Dutchmen got goals from Kosack and Rinaldi to pull within one and started hammering Munson with shots. But he stood strong and L’Esperance’s second goal gave Tech a much-needed cushion down the stretch.
“We knew [Union] was going to have a pushback. Even when we were up 4-1 we knew they were going to come out hard,” said MTU defenseman Keegan Ford. “I liked our response and [Munson] made some big saves.”
Jake Jackson capped the scoring with an empty-netter with 23.7 seconds left.
Bennett will be one of the first to tell you the entire field in the Ice Breaker Tournament is tough, and he knows facing Minnesota, which lost 4-3 in overtime to Minnesota-Duluth, will not be easy.
“I don’t think the pace is gonna get any slower tomorrow. It’s gonna get even faster,” Bennett said.
Union and Minnesota will face off in the Ice Breaker third-place game at 4:07 CT on Saturday afternoon. It’s the first matchup between the teams since the 2013-14 national championship, a 7-4 Union victory in Philadelphia.
Michigan Tech, meanwhile, meets old WCHA foe Minnesota-Duluth in the championship at 7:07 CT on Saturday night.
MTU goal at 3:29: Mitch Meek (1). Assisted by Alex Gillies (1).
UNION goal at 6:58: Anthony Rinaldi (1). Unassisted.
MTU power play goal at 12:59: Dane Birks (1). Assisted by Mark Auk (3) and Brent Baltus (1).
MTU goal at 15:41: Auk (1). Assisted by Gillies (2) and Thomas Beretta (1).
MTU goal at 6:15: L’Esperance (2). Assisted by Gavin Gould (1) and Jake Lucchini (1)
UNION goal at 3:09: Josh Kosack (1). Assisted by Brandon Estes (1).
UNION goal at 5:46: Anthony Rinaldi (2). Assisted by Sebastian Vidmar (1) and Brett Supinski (1).
MTU goal at 9:22: L’Esperance (3). Assisted by Jake Lucchini (2).
MTU empty-net goal at 19:36: Jake Jackson (1). Assisted by Auk (4).
Power plays: Union 0-3, MTU 1-3.
Shots on goal: Union 38, MTU 20.