Michigan Tech Still Learning
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
MINNEAPOLIS Just 1:26 into Saturday night's third period between Michigan Tech and Minnesota, the Huskies tied the game at two on a blast by Daniel Sova at the point.
After scoring, the Cottage Grove, Minn., native raised his hands in the air then put a finger to his mouth, telling the almost 10,000 fans clad in maroon and gold to "shush."
Needless to say, it didn't sit well with the fellows on the other bench. The Gophers rallied four four goals over the next 17 minutes, blowing the doors off a stunned Husky team, winning 6-2 and salvaging a split at Mariucci Arena.
Any WCHA coach will tell you they're happy with two points on the road — especially against the No. 2 ranked team in the country.
But with a tie game, and shades of Friday's game one still lingering — a game where the Huskies also tied the game at two early in the third and won in overtime — Sova's bravado may have been a bit over the top. Consider it another learning moment for the team — one that's still learning its coach, learning how to finish, and learning how to be a winner.
One of the nation's worst teams last season — and over the last five years — Tech showed Friday it can beat anyone in the country. Saturday, it showed it's still not quite there.
"We're pleased with a lot of things going on," Huskies first-year coach Mel Pearson said. "We're learning how to win and we're battling."
Often times, the difference for the Huskies was just a matter of inches; an odd-man rush that's a foot offside; perhaps a centering pass just a half second too late, or a check six inches too high.
All of these things have undoubtedly improved in the three months Pearson has been behind the bench. Heck, the Huskies have already more than doubled their win total from last season and heading into mid-December, MTU is tied with preseason conference darling Denver for the final home ice spot.
"They turned it up," Pearson said of the Gophers third period. "We didn't do a good enough job in our defensive zone.
"But we're learning. We need to learn how to play in tight, close defensive games against good teams if we want to get better."
Saturday's final score was not indicative of the weekend Josh Robinson had. Heading into game two, Robinson was second in the league in save percentage and among the top three in goals against average.
For comparison, Robinson finished last year 14th in the league in goals against and 13th in save percentage. One of the stories of the season, Robinson has flourished under the guidance of goaltending coach Steve Shields, a former standout at Michigan under Pearson.
"With Josh Robinson, we're going to have a chance to win every night," Pearson said.
Also on display this weekend was an improved power play, one that finished 10th in the conference last year but has jumped up to fourth best this season, including 2-for-4 on the night Saturday and 3-for-7 on the weekend.
All of these factors are apart of the culture at Tech — an improving one, but one which has been a losing one for much of the last two decades. Pearson knew it wasn't going to be an overnight transformation, and is pleased with the progress has team has made in the first half of his first season.
"I like where we're at," Pearson said. "But it's going to take us some time. They're starting to learn what we expect as coaches, the systems we have to play. Now it's just a matter of learning how to play against top teams in big venues like this one and keeping your composure about you."
What will make the difference for Pearson and the Huskies are weekends like this one — nab two points on the road, but maybe learn a thing or two about being a superior team.
"To hang tough with Minnesota for five periods, that's really a good thing for our team," Pearson said. "We just need to learn how to finish."