Huskies' Dream Slipping Away
Tech Now Waits for Possible NCAA Bid
by Theresa Spisak/CHN Reporter
ST. PAUL, Minn. Though Michigan Tech has had arguably its best season since 1996, it saw most of its dream season slip from its fingers Thursday night with a 4-0 loss to Wisconsin at the WCHA Final Five.
The Huskies, sitting at No. 15 in the NCAA's Pairwise system before the game, still have an outside chance at the NCAA tournament. However, their fate rests in the hands of the other teams in action this weekend.
But while MTU may think about its tournament chances tomorrow, tonight the Huskies were just concerned about the loss.
"Tell you the truth, [the NCAAs are] the last thing I'm thinking about right now," said head coach Jamie Russell, who earlier in the day was named co-WCHA Coach of the Year. "We'll certainly watch what's happening here and see. I think it's probably a pretty outside shot for us to get a bid, but we've played very well and we've given ourselves the opportunity to put the University in the national spotlight.
"I think we've restored a little bit of pride to the Michigan Tech program."
If the Huskies do make it to the dance, they will now have some experience in a big-game, pressure setting — a factor that Russell believes helped Wisconsin in its victory.
"I think there's no question there's no substitute for experience," he said. "We're still a very young team, we've got three seniors on our roster. We got a big series win out in Colorado College, but at this time of year, there's no substitute for having gone through that."
Senior defenseman Lars Helminen, who, like any other Huskies player that entered the program since 1996, never was in the Final Five previously, agreed with his coach.
"Definitely the nerves come into it," Helminen said. "A lot of the guys that are on the team have never been here. It's a pretty big stage. I think it kind of took us the first 10 minutes maybe to get our feet under us. Unfortunately they got the early goal in that 10 minutes, but after that I thought we got adjusted."
By the time Michigan Tech did get adjusted, however, it was 3-0 Badgers.
"At the end of the game, you don't want to have any regrets and I think we have regrets because we didn't bring our 'A' game. Now we've got some experience and we can draw on that in the future. ... There's a lot of excitement for our kids to play in this stage and it's a step forward for the program, but we're just disappointed."
The losses are always toughest on the seniors who may be playing their last game in a Huskies uniform. But if it is the end, guys like Tyler Skworchinski can still look back with pride.
"Obviously any time things don't go your way it's tough, you kind of get down and frustrated and I think we experienced a lot of that in the last two years, a lot of frustration," Skworchinski said. "But this year has been very rewarding and it makes up for all the tough times we had and I think that made us stronger individually and team-wise, to be able to handle the adversity that we've handled this year
and have the type of character that we have in that room."
NOTES: The last time the two teams faced each other in the Final Five was March 19, 1994 with Wisconsin earning 6-1 victory. ... The Badgers are one game closer to a return to the NCAAs via automatic bid, but no team has won three straight Final Five games to do it. ... The game broke a new Thursday night Final Five attendance record with 16,449 tickets sold.
They Said It
Skworchinski: They definitely put a lot of pressure on our defense. We could have done a better job of giving our defensemen a little more time and holding up and getting in the way a little bit. Obviously with the rink and the boards the way they are you don't get much time back there so you have to, getting on the forecheck is crucial and they got on top of us pretty early."
Skworchinski: "I think for me personally, I'm one of the older guys in the league and I've been waiting four years for this so it was pure excitement for me, no I wasn't nervous at all. But obviously we've got some younger guys and playing in front of that crowd on this kind of stage is kind of nerve-racking and I think like Lars said, we had some jitters but overall I didn't think we started that poorly. We had a bad break on that first goal but I thought we played well after that and didn't let that affect us."
Russell: "We're not a team that scores a lot of goals so when we got down at that point, it was a steep hill to climb and get back in the game. In terms of getting here, you know, we were very happy to get here, but we didn't want to end tonight. Certainly we were, you look at the Pairwise, we felt if we won the game tonight and we could probably — three games in three nights is difficult — but if we
went two and one, we had a pretty good chance of getting into the NCAA tournament. We got the win in the best of three series and we got the opportunity to come to the Final Five — we didn't want this journey to end."