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Michigan Tech is lone state team in NCAA hockey tourney

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Mel Pearson

Michigan Tech is back in the NCAA Hockey Tournament, the lone team representing the state in the 16-team field.

Tech head coach Mel Pearson has guided the No. 4 Huskies to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 34 years, or since his senior season with the program.

Pearson's last appearance in the NCAA Tournament was when he was associate head coach at Michigan when the Wolverines lost to Minnesota-Duluth in the 2011 national title game.

It was a short time later that Pearson was offered the head job at Tech. He first turned down the opportunity to take over a program that had just completed a 4-30-4 season, but changed his mind a few weeks later and accepted the job.

Pearson has turned around the program, making it a national power, heading into the Tournament with a 29-9-2 record, matching Minnesota State for most wins in the nation.

Tech will face St. Cloud State (19-18-1) in a West Regional first-round game Friday at 4:30 p.m. in Fargo, N.D. with the winner taking on the North Dakota-Quinnipiac winner Saturday at 9 p.m. for the right to move on to the Frozen Four April 9 in Boston.

"It's something you strive for and I couldn't be prouder of this team, the players and more excited for the community and our alumni base," Pearson said. "One of the keys to this season was our consistency. We always stayed in the moment, focused on the task at hand night in and night out. We had good depth and that played a role when we had injuries. We also played well on the road, only lost one road game during our conference season."

Tech's biggest question mark was goaltending entering the season, with the early departure of Pheonix Copley, who joined Washington's organization. Junior Jamie Phillips took over and has been one of the nation's best with his 28-8-2 record, .935 saves percentage and 1.71 goals-against-average.

"He's been really good all season, making sure he was the guy from Day 1," Pearson said. "He gives us a chance to win every night and that's important."

Phillips is one of five finalist for the Mike Richter Award. Senior forward Tanner Kero (19 goals, 45 points) is one of the 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker award.

Tech started the season with a 10-0 record, then continued its strong season, going 19-9-2 the rest of the way, finishing a point behind Minnesota State in the WCHA standings.

In fact, Minnesota State has been the only team Tech has lost to since a setback to Bowling Green back on Jan. 17. Since that loss to the Falcons, the Huskies have gone 13-2-1, outscoring their opponents by a 65-23 margin, despite falling to Minnesota State 5-2 in the WCHA title game Saturday. Tech wouldn't face Minnesota State again until the national title game.

Don't be fooled by St. Cloud's record. It had to play its way into the NCAA Tournament by playing well in the NCHC tourney, defeating NCAA Tournament teams Nebraska-Omaha (quarterfinal series sweep) and North Dakota (3-1 semifinal victory) before a 3-2 championship game loss to Miami Saturday.

North Dakota is the No. 1 seed in the West Regional with Tech the No. 2 seed.

"The first thing you notice is the record, but they've been a much better team during the second half," Pearson said. "They are a highly-skilled team. I saw them play live in the NCAA regional last year and came away impressed."

Phillips will have to be at his best for Tech to advance, facing a St. Cloud State team which ranks fifth nationally on the power play with junior Jonny Brodzinski leading the nation with 11 goals while on the man advantage.

Michigan's top hockey teams since 2011-12 season

With coach, team, record and year of last NCAA Tournament appearance:

Red Berenson, Michigan - 82-60-11 - 2012

Andy Murray, Western Michigan – 73-59-24 - 2012

Mel Pearson, Michigan Tech – 72-67-17 - 2015

Tom Anastos, Michigan State – 61-75-16 – 2012

Walt Kyle, Northern Michigan – 61-72-18 - 2010

NCAA TOURNAMENT

NORTHEAST REGIONAL

At Manchester, N.H.

Friday, March 27

Boston University (25-7-5) vs. Yale (18-9-5), 2 p.m.

Minnesota-Duluth (20-15-3) vs. Minnesota (23-12-3), 5:30 p.m.

Regional Championship

Saturday, March 28, 5:30 p.m.

EAST REGIONAL

At Providence, R.I.

Saturday, March 28

Denver (23-13-2) vs. Boston College (21-13-3), 3 p.m.

Miami (Ohio) (25-13-1) vs. Providence (22-13-2), 6:30 p.m.

Regional Championship

Sunday, March 29, 5 p.m.

MIDWEST REGIONAL

At South Bend, Ind.

Saturday, March 28

Minnesota State-Mankato (29-7-3) vs. RIT (19-14-5), 4 p.m.

Nebraska-Omaha (18-12-6) vs. Harvard (21-12-3), 7:30 p.m.

Regional Championship

Sunday, March 29, 7:30 p.m.

WEST REGIONAL

At Fargo, N.D.

Friday, March 27

Michigan Tech (29-9-2) vs. St. Cloud State (19-18-1), 4:30 p.m.

North Dakota (27-9-3) vs. Quinnipiac (23-11-4), 8 p.m.

Regional Championship

Saturday, March 28, 9 p.m.

FROZEN FOUR

At Boston

Thursday, April 9

East champion vs. Midwest champion, 5 or 8:30 p.m.

Northeast champion vs. West champion, 5 or 8:30 p.m.

Championship

Saturday, April 11, 7:30 p.m.