I first got to Michigan Tech in 2010, and as a member of the Huskies Pep Band, I went to a lot of hockey games. While Head Coach Jamie Russell had championed some serious facility improvements during his tenure—new seats, the addition of suites, revamped arena entrances, and a skating treadmill—and was known to be a strong supporter of Mitch's Misfits, the team wasn't particularly good and frustrations among the fan base were clearly visible in the game attendance numbers. The Huskies started the season with four wins and two ties, but then didn't win a single game from that point forward (Update: I messed up. One keen-eyed fan noticed that MTU did win a road game at Denver that spring). Fans sometimes commented that, this being the third season in a row with fewer than 7 wins, it sometimes looked like the team was playing in spite of their coach rather than for him and that all of the energy and passion of the game was fading with each loss.
One section of the band would play a game called "strip hockey," wherein they'd remove an article of clothing for every goal against, and replace one with every goal for. At one game near the end of the season, these band members were taking turns going to the bathroom to remove their underwear (and emerging with their striped overalls still on), even after counting each shoe and each sock separately on the way to an 11-2 loss to North Dakota. Meanwhile, the rest of the band, looking for something positive to cheer for, had started up a chant of "Let's go Red Wings!" to fill the dead air in the arena.
Fast forward 6 years, and if it weren't for the logos and colors, this team would be unrecognizable to a fan who hadn't seen a game since. At the end of the 2010 season, Russell resigned—with a full year left on his contract—and Athletic Director Suzanne Sanregret told the Daily Mining Gazette that President Glen Mroz had "given (her) the authority to use the resources to go after the best coach." She found Mel Pearson, interviewed him, and gave him 48 hours to accept the position.
He said no.
We all know that that wasn't the end of the story. Three weeks later, Sanregret and Pearson met again at the American Hockey Coaches Association conference, and Pearson accepted the job. He arrived on campus and set to work, and the 2011-12 team was a clear improvement, with 16 wins on the season—still not a winning record, but it was obviously progress. Then, three years later, the team had their first winning season since the Russell-led squad of 2006-07 went 18-17-5.
That same 2014-15 squad was the first since the 1980-81 team—that Pearson played on as a senior in the tail end of the John MacInnes years—to go to the NCAA tournament. They traveled to Fargo for the West Regional, and skated hard, looking like they were going to win their first round game until St. Cloud State's Jonny Brodzinski tied it up with just 38 seconds to go in the game. Then, after eight minutes of overtime, St. Cloud's Judd Peterson put in the game winner, and ended the season for the Black and Gold.
This season's team is also about to go to the tournament, playing on Saturday against Denver in the first round, the winner of which will play against Penn State and Union to represent the Midwest region at the Frozen Four in Chicago. Unlike two years ago, this team got in in a way they never have before: as winners of the Broadmoor Trophy, awarded to the team that wins the WCHA playoffs in each season since 1985.
The trophy itself seems odd at first glance. Why would a college hockey trophy just be a big building? That building is the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado. They first presented the trophy to the league in 1981 after Michigan Tech left for the CCHA and took the McNaughton Cup with them. When MTU returned, the McNaughton Cup was awarded to the league champions and the Broadmoor Trophy was awarded to the tournament champions.
Sports fans are big on curses, such as the Curse of the Billy Goat just having been broken by the Chicago Cubs, and one could argue that leaving the WCHA and taking the McNaughton Cup was what doomed Michigan Tech to almost three decades without winning the Broadmoor that was made to replace it. Like all good curses, the passion of the fans who went so long without success may have finally caused it to break.
Huskies fans knew, going into the last game of the semifinals, that Bemidji State had been upset by Bowling Green and that whoever won the Sunday contest against Minnesota State would host the WCHA Championship, so it was no surprise when Husky fans were ready to "Pack the Mac" for the final round. As season ticket-holders made the choice whether or not to use their ticket-buying priority, seats were released and almost instantly picked back up by other fans. By Thursday afternoon, the Saturday game was 100% sold out.
Alumni were also buying up tickets, planning to make the trek to Houghton to hopefully see their team finally become WCHA champions—THG is even aware of one alumnus who booked flights from Florida just to see the game. The student response was just as fervent, with fans literally pitching tents in the hallways of the SDC so they could ensure they got one of the 500 student tap-in tickets.
After three periods watched by 4,466 fans in the arena and hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of alumni on WCHA.tv, the score was tied and the game headed to overtime. The emotional investment from the fans was clearly noticeable, and the madness at the MacInnes was just as intense on the internet as the basketball tournament had been on CBS networks all weekend. One fan even took to Twitter with his heart rate taken from intervals throughout the game:
The first overtime was intense, with skaters putting it all on the line to try to get that one goal. A few good chances were kept out by Redmond and Nell keeping 17 shots out of the goals. After another break for resurfacing, the teams came back on the ice to keep fighting. Just 6 minutes in, Shane Hanna took a long breakout pass from Matt Roy and turned it into a breakway, then buried a shot from right in the slot.
Whether or not you ascribe to the idea of Tech being cursed from winning the Broadmoor doesn't really matter now that the Huskies finally have the hardware. What is important is that we, as fans of the team and of the sport, don't let this be just one moment in history. No matter how the tournament goes, it's important that all of that energy that has gone into this run doesn't just disappear come October. Winning the Broadmoor is certainly an achievement, but their are still loftier goals, and it's our duty as fans to be there—painting chests, waving flags, and cheering ourselves hoarse—as this team keeps moving forward.
Come on you Husky dogs, mush!
Cover photo of Shane Hanna's game-winning overtime goal credit Bob Gilreath.