By @StefanKubus –
The college season is nearly upon us, but Michigan Tech coach Joe Shawhan said the Houghton area is “basically already in hockey mode.”
While it’s largely due to the Kraft Hockeyville NHL preseason game between Detroit and St. Louis set for next week in Calumet, it also means the Huskies are one step closer to taking the ice for the 2019-20 campaign.
“We’re excited for the beginning of the ’19-20 season,” Shawhan said during the WCHA preseason teleconference. “We’re basically already in ‘hockey mode’ up here with the NHL bringing a preseason game to our area next week as part of [Kraft] Hockeyville that was secured in Calumet… It’s great to have that excitement building already.”
Michigan Tech checked in at No. 5 in the WCHA preseason coaches’ poll and No. 4 in the media poll, as announced Wednesday afternoon.
“Our goal is to ice the most competitive team possible on a week-to-week basis,” Shawhan said. “We return depth at every position. This presents healthy competition for us. We’re looking forward to that, and I think the players are looking forward to that… We were very young, a very good freshman class. They’re sophomores now, they’re still young, but we’re hoping all the experiences they went through last year can pay dividends for the program moving forward. We’ll see how that evolves over time.”
The Huskies lose 2018-19 leading producer Jake Lucchini – paced the team with 26 points – to graduation up front. But the next five returning scorers – defenseman Seamus Donohue and forwards Brian Halonen, Trenton Bliss, Greyson Reitmeier and Alec Broetzman – are all either juniors or sophomores this season, including Halonen and his team-leading 12 goals as a freshman last season.
Shawhan named sophomore Zach Noble as a potential breakout player this season. As a freshman, the 6-foot-2 Noble appeared in ten games and posted three helpers and a plus-three rating.
“We look for a lot of players to make strides; there’s opportunity for all of them,” Shawhan said. “A lot of guys had a lot of minutes last year and put a lot of work in the offseason… Noble I think has a chance to do some good things. He’s a size-strength kind of forward that has some pretty good hands. He’s improved his strength base, he has improved his first step, he’s pretty good around the net. I think he’s a guy that might surprise people. He might give us a good boost at that position which we need.
“But obviously Halonen and Bliss and Broetzman are all good players… I think in the freshman class we have both Pietilas (Howell), Logan and Blake, are very good players for us. Jake Crespi (Brighton) I think is a good player that skates well, has some offensive instincts.”
Crespi, one of 11 Michigan natives on the Huskies’ roster, was a MHSAA state champion with Brighton High School before moving on to junior hockey en rout to Houghton. The Pietilas are twins fresh off two USHL seasons apiece; Blake with Cedar Rapids and Logan with Dubuque.
Between the pipes, the Huskies have senior Matt Jurusik, junior Robbie Beydoun (Plymouth) and Pietila. Jurusik saw the majority of time last season, posting a 9-11-2 record, .909 save percentage and 2.50 goals-against average in 23 games. Beydoun went 4-6-1 with a sparkling .931 save percentage and 1.98 goals-against average in his 12 appearances last season.
On the back end, Donohue’s 22 points in 38 games last season led all MTU blueliners and trailed only Lucchini for the overall team lead. With the additions of freshmen Chris Lipe (Rockford) and Brenden Datema (Sterling Heights), the Huskies boast 11 defensemen on the roster, so Shawhan expects the aforementioned “healthy competition” to help sort out the blue line for him.
“We’re hoping they balance that time through good healthy competition and earning that time,” Shawhan said. “The two defensemen we brought in are 6-foot-1 (Lipe) and 6-foot-5 (Datema), so they have good reach and make a good first pass.”
On Tuesday, the Huskies added David Raisanen to its roster. Raisanen, a 6-foot 5 forward, had been playing high school hockey in Minnesota and recorded a monster season (36-28–64 in 25 games) before taking the entire 2016-17 season off. Shawhan said Raisanen gave up hockey and shifted his focus to studying engineering at that point.
However, in the 2017-18 season, Raisanen “rekindled his passion for hockey” and joined the Minot Minotauros of the NAHL. In 2018-19, he posted a solid 24-goal, 50-point season and ultimately committed to Michigan Tech on Tuesday.
“I wouldn’t say he fell in our lap, but in some ways he did,” Shawhan said. “He’s got family in this area, he’s from Minnesota, he’s a legacy individual here which means his family went here. I think financially this was a good fit for him over some of the opportunities he had at other schools, and he came in and he’s done a good job in the limited time with him. He adds to what we’re doing, he competes hard, he’s an intelligent young man, he has a real character base in his pedigree in the research we did on him, so it wasn’t a real difficult decision to add him.”
Raisanen said in a NAHL release that Michigan Tech has “a great engineering program and a historic hockey program,” the best of both worlds for him. He also cited his friends and family who have attended the school as a big reason for choosing MTU, as Shawhan mentioned.
“It’s a good story, so hopefully it has a real good ending,” Shawhan said.