No. 6 Michigan Tech University (16-18-4) vs. No. 3 University of Denver (23-12-4)
Time/TV: 2:07 p.m. on Fox Sports North
The opening game in the WCHA Final Five pits a staple of the tournament, Denver, faces off Thursday against a team that hasn't been in St. Paul since 2007.
Mel Pearson's Michigan Tech Huskies have been one of the biggest surprises this year in college hockey. After winning a total of 2 conference games last season, the Huskies have defeated Minnesota, St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth and took 3 points from the Pioneers earlier this season. They stumbled towards the end of the regular season but rebounded to sweep Colorado College on the road (the only one of the six remaining teams to do so).
Michigan Tech is led by senior forward Brett Olson and freshman David Johnstone. Olson leads the Huskies with 30 points while Johnstone is tied for the lead with 11 goals; the last coming in overtime Saturday to beat the Tigers. In the net is goalie Josh Robinson, who has .908 save% in 34 games.
Denver also advanced in overtime, defeating Wisconsin 4-3 Sunday in a do-or-die Game 3, so they have the experience of facing sudden death. Despite having the talents of Drew Shore (Florida Panthers) and Jason Zucker (Minnesota Wild) up front, senior Luke Salazar was the most reliable forward this past weekend. He scored the game-winner both Friday and Saturday.
Defensively, the Pioneers have relied on WCHA Rookie of the Year Joey LaLeggia on the blue line and the tandem of Juho Olkinuora and Sam Brittain (Panthers). Brittain has played the majority of games since coming back from offseason surgery in late January and was in net for both DU wins against Wisconsin. Despite that, Olkinuora is a big reason why the Pioneers were in the WCHA regular season race for much of the season.
Concerning the NCAA Tournament, Michigan Tech needs to win the Broadmoor Trophy and WCHA automatic bid to get in. As good as they've been this season they aren't among the 32 teams under consideration. Denver, on the other hand, is 12th in the Pariwise and will be guaranteed a spot if they win today. It makes the game that much bigger for the Pioneers because no one likes to have their fate decided by others.
The winner faces Minnesota-Duluth Friday in the first WCHA Final Five semifinal at 2 p.m.