MARQUETTE, Mich. – Michigan Tech won its second straight WCHA Playoff Championship Saturday (March 17) with a 2-0 shutout of No. 16 Northern Michigan at the Berry Events Center. The Huskies 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," Tech coach Joe Shawhan said. "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.
"I'm extremely proud to be a part of this great university. I'm glad that we are able to give President Mroz a going away present with his upcoming retirement, and Dr. Suzanne Sanregret could've hired a lot of other great people for this job. I'm proud that we were able to get the win for the great support our program gets."
After a scoreless—and evenly played first period—Tech got on the board early in the second. The Huskies got the first power play at the 3:21 mark and then kept the puck in the offensive zone.
Mitch Meek dumped it in from the blue line with a shot that bounced off the back wall and out front. Justin Misiak got a whack at it before Greyson Reitmeier shoveled it in for a 1-0 lead 5:36 into the second. It was the fifth goal of his freshman season.
"I was fortunate enough to be there when it bounced out," Reitmeier said. "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 defense 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 2:00 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," Captain Brent Baltus said. "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 worked the puck into the offensive zone, and Joel L'Esperance scored into the open net past a pair of Wildcat defenders on a backhanded shot from Jake Lucchini and Dane Birks for a 2-0 lead. L'Esperance now has 11 goals on the season and 45 for his career.
With 2.6 seconds left, Payne deflected a shot past Munson, but it was waved off because of a high stick and the shutout was intact.
"A lot of the credit goes to the guys in front of me," Munson said. "We have three freshmen defensemen 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.
WCHA Commissioner Bill Robertson awarded the WCHA Championship Game Three Stars to Justin Misiak (third star), Greyson Reitmeier (second star), and Patrick Munson (first star and Most Outstanding Player) before handing the Jeff Sauer Trophy to captains Brent Baltus, Joel L'Esperance, Dylan Steman, Jake Lucchini, and Mitch 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 are winners of six of their last seven games and will learn their opponent and regional location on Sunday at noon during the NCAA selection show live on ESPNU.
GAME NOTES: Tech had lost its previous two games at NMU this season… Joel L'Esperance and Jake Lucchini lead the team with eight (3G-5A) points in the playoffs… The Huskies won their fifth road playoff game of the season—the most in program history… Tech has now played in six WCHA Playoff Championship Games (1962, 1965, 1996, 2015, 2017, and 2018)… Tech won the WCHA Championship outright in 1962, 1965, 2017, and 2018… The Huskies also earned WCHA co-playoff titles in 1960, 1969, 1970, 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1981.