Buoyed by a handful of Smoke Eaters alumni, including Nakusp naive Greyson Reitmeyer, the Michigan Tech Huskies skated to its second straight Western College Hockey Association (WCHA) Playoff Championship Saturday with a 2-0 shutout of No. 16 Northern Michigan at the Berry Events Center in Marquette, MI.
The Huskies, led by captain Brent Baltus (Smoke Eater from 2011-13), assistant captain Jake Lucchini (2012-14), Reitmeier (2013-14), and Dane Birks (Smokies AP in 2011-12), also won the inaugural Jeff Sauer Trophy and will receive the WCHA’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“You can’t say enough about these guys,” said Tech coach Joe Shawhan. “I’m just blessed to be around them and coach them. To go on three road trips and play the way that they played is remarkable.”
After a scoreless—and evenly played first period—Tech got on the board early in the second. The Huskies went on a power play at the 3:21 mark and Mitch Meek dumped it in from the blue line with a shot that bounced off the back wall and out front to Reitmeier and the Nakusp native shovelled it in for a 1-0 lead 5:36 into the second.
“I was fortunate enough to be there when it bounced out,” said Reitmeier. “The D-man was trying to clear it out, and the goalie was trying to cover it. I just swung at it, and I was lucky enough for it to go in.”
Tech’s defence stole the show for the rest of the game, including numerous great saves by goaltender Patrick Munson. The Huskies had to kill off a pair of penalties—their only two of the game—later in the second period, and then Munson had a sliding armpit save with 2:20 to go to stop a 2-on-1 break for the Wildcats.
In the third, the Wildcats only mustered three chances to the net thanks to 22 blocked shots by the Huskies. Robbie Payne hit the post to the left of Munson less than two minutes in and NMU missed the net on five different chances. Munson stoned Denver Pierce at the doorstep with 1:48 left and then swallowed the rebound.
“Going into the third period, we knew they were going to throw everything at us,” said Baltus. “They’re a great hockey team and had an outstanding year. They have some players that can make some great plays. Packy was outstanding, and we knew that if we played good defense, and blocked shots, that he would do the rest for us.”
NMU (25-15-3) goaltender Atte Tolvanen was pulled with 1:48 left in the game. The Huskies Birks worked the puck to Lucchini who found Joel L’Esperance in the offensive zone and he fired it into the open net.
“A lot of the credit goes to the guys in front of me,” Munson said. “We have three freshmen defencemen who have really developed throughout the year. You can really see in these last three games that they’ve just been blocking shots and clearing out pucks after saves. Our team has just been trending upward, and they’ve made it really easy on me.”
Munson stopped nine shots in each of the first two periods and three in the third. He has now won three straight games and has a 0.92 goals against average and a .969 save percentage in the span.
Shots were even at 21. Tolvanen had 19 saves for NMU. Both teams were whistled for only two penalties.
The WCHA Championship Game Three Stars went to Justin Misiak (third star), Reitmeier (second star), and Munson (first star and Most Outstanding Player) and the Jeff Sauer Trophy hoisted by captains Baltus, L’Esperance, Dylan Steman, Lucchini, and Reinke.
“This one’s pretty special,” added Baltus. “That rivalry with Northern is pure in every sense. It was an exciting game. I’m just very thankful and very proud to be a part of this team and this university. Going on the road to play three very good hockey teams in the playoffs, and then to end it this way tonight, there’s not a lot of words to describe it.”
Tech entered the WCHA Playoffs as the fifth seed and upset No. 4 Bemidji State in the quarterfinal, No. 1 seed Minnesota State in the semifinal, and No. 2 seed Northern Michigan in the final.
Tech now heads to the NCAA Tournament for the 14th time in school history with its 22-16-5 record.
The Huskies play Notre Dame on Friday in the NCAA East Region semifinal. Notre Dame (25-9-2) won the Big Ten tournament on Saturday with an overtime win over Ohio State in the final.
The game will be 3 p.m. Friday and will be shown on ESPN2. The winner will face the winner of Providence-Clarkson on Saturday.