Team of the Week: Michigan Tech
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Michigan Tech head coach Jamie Russell has taken this week to do something he doesn't get a chance to do much anymore — see recruits play in person.
The Huskies have a week off, a weekend after taking three points from Denver and matching the program's highest win total since 1998. It has also creeped close to the ever-important Top 14 in the Pairwise, and earned CHN's Team of the Week honors.
"It's an opportunity for me to get out and see some games," said Russell, who used to pound the recruiting trail regularly as an assistant coach for Cornell. "The his and lows of recruiting are every bit like the games. When you get a big one, you're ecstatic, when you lose one, it's tough sledding."
It's been tough sledding for Tech in recent years, a far cry from the glory days of the '60s and '70s, when National Championships were relatively frequent. But while still far from competing for a title, the program is back on the upswing, and last weekend left the Huskies wanting more. It could easily have had a sweep of the Pioneers were it not for a slap shot from near center ice that skipped its way past Tech goaltender Rob Nolan.
"We're definitely making progress," Russell said. "Our team defense is very good, the penalty kill is very good, but flip it around, and we don't score a whole lot. Our power play is up and down, but last weekend, it was up."
Russell is pulling this off with the same kind of mentality that drove the Cornell machine when he worked there four years as an assistant coach — bringing in 18 players over the last two recruiting classes, targeting great character players who work hard and are physical.
"They're the core of our team now," Russell said. "They've turned things round. And with each class, we add a little more speed and skill. And I think we have one of the best classes coming in next fall."
Players like Geoff Kinrade, a defenseman leading the team in plus-minus, have made great inroads. Russell points to junior Tyler Shelast as well.
"There's a lot of similarities (with Cornell)," Russell said. "Our philosophy is similar — our systems are completely different.
"We're big, physical, strong defensively, our PK is outstanding, we're not going to score 5-6 goals a game. Who does that sound like? Our forecheck is different, our 'D' zone coverage is different, our neutral zone forecheck is different, but our approach to the game in terms of a pack mentality is the same.
Michigan Tech had a nice start to the season, going 5-1 and sweeping Vermont on the road at one point. Then came a rough stretch in the middle of the season, which included a pair of clunkers in the Great Lakes Invitational. A 3-2 loss to Harvard in the consolation game was considered the low point, and goalie Michael-Lee Teslak had his worst game of the season. The Huskies lost 8-of-10, with the only wins being two on the road at North Dakota.
Since then, they've been 5-2-3.
"We're a young team and we're learning," Russell said. "There's a fine line between winning and losing."
That early-season stretch included a rare 14-goal weekend, consisting of a 9-0 win over Alaska-Anchorage.
"I wish we could've saved some of those," Russell said. "If you could get every bounce possible, we got it. Then we tied Mankato a couple weeks ago, and we hit four crossbars."