Four players with Trail ties will get the chance to help Michigan Tech to its second consecutive Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) championship on Saturday, and while their at it, grab a berth into the NCAA Div. 1 championship tournament with a win over Northern Michigan.
Trail native Jake Lucchini, former Trail Smoke Eaters Brent Baltus and Greyson Reitmeier from Nakusp, and Merritt product Dane Birks, son of Beaver Valley Nitehawks coach Bill Birks, all play for the Huskies and celebrated wildly after defeating Minnesota State University 2-1 in overtime on Sunday, to clinch the best-of-three conference semifinal series.
The fifth-seeded Huskies were a decided underdog going up against top-seeded Minnesota, the number-3 ranked team in the country, last weekend. But following a 2-1 loss in the opening game, Tech managed a 4-2 victory in Game 2, and then won the series with the overtime win in Game 3.
The Northern Michigan Wildcats also needed three-games-plus to complete its run to the WCHA final. The Cats beat Bowling Green 6-1 in the opening match, but fell 1-0 in the second tilt, setting up a 3-2 overtime victory in the rubber-match.
For the first time ever, Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech are meeting in the WCHA title game. The winner gets the inaugural Jeff Sauer WCHA Championship Trophy, the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Baltus wears the ‘C’ for the Huskies, while Lucchini is an alternate captain and leads Michigan Tech in scoring with 16 goals and 36 points with a team high six power-play markers. He is also tied with Baltus and former Merritt Centennial Gavin Gould for the most game-winning goals (3).
Also a former Smoke Eater, Lucchini pitched in with six points in two big wins over Bemidji State for a sweep of the WCHA quarter-final on Mar. 2-3.
Tech will play in the WCHA Championship Game for the sixth time ever and the third time in the last four seasons. The Huskies defeated Bowling Green last year 3-2 in double overtime at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena to win the Broadmoor Trophy. Tech fell to Minnesota State 5-2 in the 2015 WCHA Championship Game at the Xcel Energy Center.
The puck drop for Saturday’s match between the Huskies and Wildcats is 4 p.m. Pacific Time at the Berry Events Center in Marquette, MI.