Oct. 28, 2010

By Jen Gunnels

During the glory days of Michigan Tech ice hockey under legendary head coach John MacInnes, the Huskies captured three NCAA championship titles, seven Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) titles and once skated to a program-best 8-0-0 start in 1972-73. Unbeaten through five games, this years Huskies are off to their best start since that 1972-73 campaign and return to the ice this weekend at Wisconsin looking to keep the streak alive.

Were heading into some tough arenas on the road this season so well have to see how our young guys react to that,” said Michigan Tech head coach Jamie Russell. Were a young team; half of our forwards who dress every game are freshman, so there are going to be peaks and valleys with such a young team. Weve had a great start, and well have to see what we can do in terms of consistency.”

Three of last years top four scorers returned to Houghton this fall, providing a strong backbone for the squad. The teams four seniors have contributed 20 of the squads 61 points so far this season and sophomore Steven Siego leads all defensemen in the nation in points per game with 1.60. But the Tech freshmen have wasted no time in contributing. Through the first five games of the season, the teams eight freshmen lead the squad with nine goals, and with a 4.80 goals per game average, the Tech scoring offense is currently fourth in the nation.

We really looked for guys who have had leadership experience, were captains on their junior league teams, were maybe a little bit older, and I can see that in this group,” Russell said. Its the most mature freshman class Ive ever been around. We have a lot of our freshman in very key roles on the ice and theyve really sunk their teeth into making the most of those opportunities.”

Russell led 22 of his student-athletes on a foreign tour in August, playing five games in six days in Germany and Austria. Due to NCAA regulations, incoming freshman were not allowed to make the trip, but Russell says the tour still had an enormous impact on the start of the season.

From a hockey standpoint, we altered a lot of how we play this year, so that trip gave us an opportunity to implement and practice those new systems,” Russell said. The trip was really successful in getting the guys to believe in those systems. It was the ultimate team bonding trip.”

Russell, who played defense for the Huskies from 1987 to 1989, understands the illustrious history of Michigan Tech hockey. Now in his eighth season at the helm, Russell has already experienced glimmers of the teams earlier successes. In 2007 the Huskies advanced to the WCHA Final Five for the first time since 1996.

Certainly the future looks bright with a lot of young players who are very talented,” Russell said. We have a storied history here at Tech and when I came back here to coach our goal was to elevate the program back to the top of the WCHA. Thats been a challenge and weve had some setbacks, but I think the future looks very bright.”

The Huskies will face Wisconsin in Madison for a two-game series this weekend. The Badgers are coming off a loss and a tie at Denver last weekend, while the Huskies are returning to action for the first time since an Oct. 16 tie with Minnesota State Mankato. Following Wisconsin, Michigan Tech will next face No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth in a two-game road series Nov. 12-13.

Were going to need very good leadership from our older guys,” Russell said of the upcoming road series. Those first ten minutes are essential. Our freshmen have had a good start so far this season, but until the bullets start flying in a hostile rink, youre just not sure how your young guys will react. So were going to look to our upperclassmen to really provide leadership in those scenarios.”

Looking Ahead to Other Weekend Action

Also off to a hot start this year and standing atop the Atlantic Hockey Association rankings are the Colonials of Robert Morris. The 4-0-0 start is the best in program history and was enough to earn the Colonials their first national ranking with InsideCollegeHockey.com, where they currently sit at No. 19. Robert Morris will put the winning streak on the line in weekend games with RIT and Niagara.

This weeks new USA TODAY/USA Hockey No. 1 Miami (Ohio) RedHawks will look to maintain the top spot as they host CCHA opponent Lake Superior State in a pair of weekend contests. Miami senior forward Carter Camper now has at least a share of the lead nationally in all three offensive categories, with seven goals (tied with Matt Frattin of North Dakota), 10 assists and 17 points, and will look to keep a six-game point streak alive this weekend.

Opening the season with the longest unbeaten streak in the nation is No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth. At 5-0-1, the Bulldogs are off to their best start in six years and will put the streak on the line against WCHA opponent Bemidji State in a weekend series beginning Friday. The Bulldogs will rely on an offense that is averaging five goals per game. The Bemidji State Beavers are returning to the ice for the first time since dropping their opening series against North Dakota Oct. 15-16 and are on the hunt for their first win as members of the WCHA. No. 8 North Dakota is hosting No. 12 Denver in another pair of WCHA weekend contests. The Fighting Sioux are finally back on home ice after opening the season with six road games. North Dakota will be looking to bounce back after being swept at Maine last weekend.

The Ivy League teams are making their season debut this weekend at the Ivy Shootout. Brown, Dartmouth, Princeton, and No. 7 Yale will converge in New Haven for their season-openers. Meanwhile, No. 15 Cornell hosts No. 10 New Hampshire on Friday in a rematch of last years NCAA East Regional semifinal in which New Hampshire took a 6-2 victory over the Big Red. Cornell will then host RIT in another nonconference matchup on Saturday. Although the Big Red lost three 100-point career scorers last season, they return senior co-captains Joe Devin and Patrick Kennedy to the ice as the teams top two leading scorers.