Detroit — It’s been a season of firsts for Joe Shawhan and the Michigan Tech Huskies hockey team.
The rookie head coach, who succeeded current first-year Michigan head coach Mel Pearson, got another one Monday: His first head coaching win at the Great Lakes Invitational, a 5-2 victory over Michigan State that will give the Huskies a chance to play for their 12th GLI championship.
But Shawhan would rather talk about an offense in transition than a program in one — and for good reason. His team got a majority of its chances via odd-man rushes and by quickly getting the puck up-ice, a strategy that netted three goals — including the winner — in the first 5:26 of the second period.
“It was important that we were attacking in good areas, and that we try to do the best we can to not let them set up in their defensive posture,” Shawhan said. “It changed the game for us.”
The game plan required composure and energy — a lot to ask from a team that saw the Spartans take a 1-0 lead late in the first period by beating its most reliable unit. At 19:16, Zach Osburn fired a puck from the side boards that got past scrambling freshman goaltender Robbie Beydoun, just the second power-play goal allowed by Tech in its last 37 short-handed situations.
“The first period, I think it was kind of tough for our team,” Tech forward Jake Lucchini said. “When you give up a goal late in any period, it kind of gives you a jolt.”
Michigan Tech coach Joe Shawhan talks about his team's ability to create offense in transition during its GLI semifinal matchup with Michigan State Nolan Bianchi
“Jolt” is an understatement.
The scoring for Tech started at 2:04, when Alex Smith dropped the puck to Brent Baltus during an odd-man rush at the blue line for a give-and-go. The puck eventually returned to Smith and bounced off his skate before sliding across the goal line to make it a 1-1 game. Lucchini and Alex Gillies both lit the lamp in the 3:22 that followed, putting Michigan Tech up 3-1.
“Mentally, those first couple goals in the second period were really important for us,” Lucchini said. “We had to get our feet under us, and then after that we just kind of took off.”
Beydoun got better as the game went on, too. The freshman goaltender came up big in several instances, most notably a diving glove save on Patrick Khodorenko during a Spartan power play to keep the game 3-1 and a handful of chaotic scrambles near the game’s end.
“There’s a lot of NHL goalies — Gerry Cheevers, Billy Smith — that couldn’t care less about playing a game in the regular season, just put me on the ice when the ring’s on the line,” said Shawhan, a former NCAA goaltender himself. “He seems to have a little bit of that in him.”
Much like the period that preceded it, the Spartans struck late.
Penalties to Mitch Meek and Mitch Lewandoski created a 4-on-4 situation to the delight of Khodorenko, who was found by Taro Hirose in open ice at the top of the left circle. He sent a rocket off the pipe and into the net, cutting the Huskies lead to 3-2 at 18:33.
Once again, Tech went to the locker room just moments after giving up a devastating goal, and once again, the Huskies didn’t let the late tally shake their confidence. They came out stronger in the third and added two goals.
“I didn’t say a word to them after the second period,” Shawhan said. “I trust our team.”
GLI at LCA
What: Great Lakes Invitational
Where: Little Caesars Arena
Semifinal: Michigan Tech 5, Michigan State 2
Semifinal: Bowling Green 6, Michigan 4
Consolation: Michigan State vs. Michigan, 2:30 (FSD)
Championship: Michigan Tech vs. Bowling Green, 6 (FSD)
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer