Tigers beat Tech; will play them in playoffs Friday

The two teams liked this past weekend’s series so much that they’ll try it again next week

No. 19 Colorado College’s 2-0 win and results of other Western Collegiate Hockey Association games on Saturday night dropped Michigan Tech to the No. 8 seed in the upcoming best-of-three first round of the league playoffs when they will face the host Tigers on Friday.

The Huskies (14-18-4, 11-13-4 WCHA) will stay in Colorado Springs since the school is on spring break.

Tech head coach Mel Pearson likes his team’s chances after spending another week getting used to the altitude, the Olympic-sized ice sheet, and not having to travel.

“This could end up being an advantage,” Pearson said. “We know what they’re trying to do and they know what we’re doing. We just need to figure out a way to score goals.”

“That will help them,” Tigers head coach Scott Owens. “I like that we finished fifth instead of sixth and we’ve won both games in March. I like that it kept our Pairwise chances going.”

MTU last advanced to the WCHA Final Five in 2007, when the Huskies swept the host Tigers (18-14-2, 15-12-1), which also marked the last time Tech has won at the World Arena. The Huskies are 6-2 against CC in eight all-time postseason games.

Here are the other playoff matchups, pending a late Alaska score, for the best-of-three series starting Friday:  No. 12 seed Alaska-Anchorage at No. 1 Minnesota; No. 11 Minnesota State at No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth; No. 10 Bemidji State/Wisconsin at No. 3 Denver; No. 9 Wisconsin/Bemidji State at No. 4 North Dakota, and No. 7 Nebraska-Omaha at No. 6 St. Cloud State.

The Huskies have not finished higher than sixth place in the WCHA since 1992-93, when they were fourth. It was also the last time MTU hosted a WCHA playoff series.

CC senior defenseman Gabe Guentzel wound up and fired a hard slap shot that beat Tech goalie Kevin Genoe, making only his seventh appearance this season. The 5-on-3 power play goal was set up by penalties against the Huskies’ Alex MacLeod and Riley Sweeney only 42 seconds apart.

The goal, coming on CC’s sixth shot of the game, energized both teams with a lot of the rough stuff in the final three minutes of the second period.

CC picked up a huge insurance goal when Jaden Schwarz forced a MTU turnover along the left boards and skated in alone on the breakaway. He skated across the face of the goal, beating Genoe with a backhander inside the right post for s 2-0 lead with 52.2 seconds left in the second.

“They’re a good team and we can’t afford to give them a 5-on-3 or let Schwartz come clean for a breakaway,” Pearson said.

The third period was marked with a lot of end-to-end play with the Huskies coming out playing hard in hopes for staging a rally. Genoe made a huge legpad save on a one-timer by Rylan Schwartz from three feet away midway through the period to keep CC from pulling away.

“He gave us a chance to win tonight,” Pearson said.

MTU pulled Genoe with 2:44 remaining but the Huskies could not solve Thorimbert, who made 31 saves for his third career shutout.

“The guys in front of me worked their (butts) off,” Thorimbert said.

“Josh came up big and we found a way to win,” Owens said.

Michigan Tech put together a solid first period, but could not capitalize on its chances. Captain Brett Olson muffed a one-timer 4:28 in and his rebound attempt was stopped by Josh Thorimbert with 14:21 left.

Later, the Tigers killed off a 5-on-3 lasting an entire two minutes, being served by penalty-killing defensemen Guentzel and Joe Marciano, late in the period. The Huskies out shot CC 15-4 during the period and had a 19-4 edge early in the second.

“We had a good first period but we had nothing to show for it,” Pearson said. “We held them to two goals on the road. That’s usually good enough to win.”

Thorimbert made two big saves during that 5-on-3 man advantage for Tech, including a point-bank attempt by MTU 6-foot-5 right wing Milos Gordic, while CC captain Nick Dineen twice disrupted the MTU power play with a block and poke check out front.

Playing Tech in the playoffs mirrors last season’s finish when CC played Wisconsin five times, winning Game 3 of the playoff series.

“I thought it worked out well last year,” Owens said. “It has the flavor of a Junior A five-game series which we liked. I know tonight was the kind of game that earned our players’ respect. We were fortunate to win this game.”

It’s going to be intense,” Guentzel said/ “It’s do-or-die hockey.”