Michigan Tech is one of the hottest teams in the country.
The Huskies are 12-1-1 in their last 14 games, entering Friday night’s game against Bowling Green.
The teams face off in the semifinals of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs at 5:07 p.m. in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Tech, ranked fourth nationally, is 28-8-2 overall. The Huskies were 21-5-2 in the league play for second place, one point behind top-ranked Minnesota State.
They’re second in the nation in goals allowed (1.68 goals per game) and seventh in scoring (3.55 gpg).
“They do a lot of things well and they compete really hard. There’s talent there,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “They’re a really good team and their record proves it. It’s not an accident their record is what it is.”
OFFENSE: WCHA Player of the Year and senior forward Tanner Kero leads Tech in scoring with 45 points. He has 19 goals and 26 assists. He also was named one of the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, presented annually to the outstanding player in college hockey.
Junior forward Alex Petan has 14 goals and 24 assists, while junior forward Malcolm Gould has 14 goals and 17 assists, and senior Blake Pietila has 13 goals and 15 assists.
Gould and Petan were second-team All-WCHA picks, and Pietila was on the third team.
DEFENSE: Junior Jamie Phillips, a first-team All-WCHA pick, is Tech’s No. 1 goalie. He’s second in the nation with a 1.61 goals-against average and third with a .938 save percentage. He has played in all 38 games.
The defense includes third-team All-WCHA selection Shane Hanna, who has an on-ice rating of plus-28.
“(Our defense) starts with Jamie,” Tech coach Mel Pearson said. “Our team is committed to working hard and playing hard without the puck. We don’t have any superstars on (defense). They’ve played well back there. Our forwards are committed to good team defense.”
“We’ve got some good players (offensively). A lot of times if you’re playing good offensively and you control the puck, you’re not going to be on defense as much. That’s a key just as much as our overall defense.”
LEADER: Kero is Tech’s captain and was the WCHA’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He has a 3.72 grade-point average in math.
“You notice players on other teams talking all the time, but he just seems to go about his business,” Bergeron said. “He seems like a kid anyone would want to coach because he comes to work every day and competes.
“He’s got a skill set. He’s an all-around player. He’s not a guy who is just skill and doesn’t compete, or just a competitor with no skill. He’s a captain of their team, so he’s got to have some leadership to him. From an opposing coach perspective, he seems like the total package.”
RETURN: The Falcons are back in the Final Five after dropping a 4-0 decision to Minnesota State in the semifinals last season.
BG played well early, but its level of play fell off once it fell behind 2-0 after allowing a short-handed goal just past the midway point of the second period.
“You can’t expect someone to know how to act in a situation unless they’ve been there before. It helps a bunch,” said Bergeron, whose team returned most of its key players from last season.
“We’re hoping last year’s experience at the Final Five will help us with this year’s experience and this year’s opportunity. It’ll come down to execution and all that stuff. I hope our guys can act like they’ve been there before and be able to execute at that level.”
REMATCH: The Falcons and split Tech split a series in Hougton, Michigan Jan. 16-17.
Tech posted a 4-3 win in Game 1, rallying from deficits of 2-0 in the second period and 3-2 in the third period. BG posted a 3-2 win in Game 2, building a 3-0 lead in the second period and holding Tech off after that.
BUILDING: Like BG, Tech’s program has transformed from one of the worst in its league to one of its best.
The Huskies were swept at BG in the quarterfinals last season, but have played consistently well this season. They were third in the coaches poll and began the season 10-0.
“Their team belief is off the charts,” Bergeron said. “I didn’t think they weren’t a confident group last year, but they found ways to lose games, and this year they’re finding ways to win a bunch.
“They’re a program we want to be like, in terms of the consistency, in terms of the level of success. That’s a good bar for us to get to.”
Pearson is in his fourth season with a 71-66-17 record. He was a long-time assistant at Michigan before taking the Tech job. He’s rumored to be the next head coach at Michigan when Red Berenson eventually retires.
“We haven’t had a lot of success over the years and it’s all about how you handle success. It all starts with our senior leadership,” Pearson said. “They’re really been able to keep our guys focused on the task at hand. We’ve really been able to do that because they’re a hungry bunch. They’re anxious to take the next step.”
NCAA: The NCAA selection show is Sunday at noon on ESPNU.
Before the selection show, at 11 a.m., the NCAA will tweet out (@NCAAIceHockey) the four No. 1 seeds in alphabetical order.
Moments after, after receiving the official bracket from the NCAA, ESPN host John Buccigross will tweet out (@Buccicgross) the numerical order of the No. 1 seeds and the region in which they will play.