Michigan Tech Back on Course
Huskies Have 'Defining Moment' In Duluth
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
For all of the progress Michigan Tech has made this season under first-year coach Mel Pearson, you couldn't tell by what had happened through the first half of last Friday's game at Minnesota-Duluth.
The Huskies had run into a juggernaut that was making them look silly, falling behind 4-0 in hostile territory to the nation's top-ranked team, and reminding Tech of all it still hadn't done.
And then a funny thing happened. Michigan Tech reeled off the nine unanswered goals the remainder of the weekend, and came away with three points. Not only did it underscore that the Huskies really had come a long way, it made a big statement.
"I was looking for trap door to get off that bench," Pearson said about his thoughts midway through Friday's game. "We were standing around waiting to see what to would happen."
Getting one goal back allowed to coaches to get the team focused again.
"We talked about the obvious things, having some pride," Pearson said. "That wasn't our team. We had to start skating. We changed a couple things. We wanted to handle the puck less, chip it in and support.
"(And) Josh got his stuff together."
Josh is goaltender Josh Robinson, who has played well for the most part this season, but was just pulled early in a game the previous weekend against Northern Michigan. Then after allowing four early goals to Duluth, it looked bad again. But Pearson stuck with him.
"Against Northern, I didn't like one of the goals he gave up," Pearson said. "This time, it wasn't him so much, but the team was flat. It was good for him to have to work through it. You're going to face adversity at some point."
Another goal made it 4-2 before the second intermission, and now it was a game again.
"You need a spark. We were embarrassed," Pearson said. "We've been in most games this year, and played hard, but they knew they were embarrassing themselves. They're a proud bunch of kids."
Pearson now is optimistic that the team has successfully fought through what had been a cold spell, following a very nice start. For a team that's won just eight total WCHA games the previous three seasons, it now has nine league wins this year. If the cold spell was going to tailspin, it could've ruined the strides that were made. But it was cut off in an emphatic way over five periods in Duluth.
"We (the coaches) knew we could pull it together, but you're concerned with what the team is thinking. But we always had a different challenge so we could put a different spin on it. Christmas break came at a good time, we'd lost three in a row but played well. ... We kept things positive. Then we caught Anchorage at the right time at home to get us back on track."
Now Tech has a chance to go forward for the stretch run, with home ice in the WCHA playoffs on the line. The Huskies are currently in seventh place, one spot out of home ice.
"It'll be interesting (going forward)," Pearson said. "Friday night really defines a team, bouncing back when you're in that situation. I still think we're learning, we do have a young team. Our freshmen and sophomores are many of our go-to guys. So we'll have inconsistencies. But there's expectations now. We've beaten Minnesota on the road, Duluth, a good Denver team; we played well against Boston College. They've showed coaches they can compete with anyone on any given night.
"And it's handling success, learning how to handle that and be ready to play the next weekend"
With the success, an enthusiasm has returned to Houghton, Mich., where the locals had come to expect excellence during the triumphant '70s, only to see it gradually evaporate, with coach after coach unable to recapture that magic.
"We had 3700 (fans) the last home game," Pearson said. "They can appreciate first and foremost our style of play — it's a much more up-tempo, entertaining game. Right away in the building I think you sense that. They're getting on board. But I'm trying to temper it a bit and say we have a lot of work to do."