The first half of the WCHA regular season is officially over and Michigan Tech sits tied with St. Cloud State for 7th place with 13 points. There are many positives through the first half. Michigan Tech is .500 overall and within 1 point of .500 in conference play. Brett Olson (6 goals, 13 assists) is 3 points away from surpassing last year’s team high 21 points (three-way tie between Milos Gordic, Ryan Furne and Deron Cousens). Michigan Tech already has 8 players with double-digit point totals including 3 freshmen. All those offensive numbers are an improvement but the biggest change has come between the pipes. Thus far the Huskies have dropped their GAA from a horrendous 4.40 to a more manageable 2.87 and improved their save percentage from a pathetic .879 to a respectable .904. Josh Robinson has really come alive under the tutelage of new goalie coach Steve Shields.
The road doesn’t get any easier as we examine the schedule. With Michigan Tech at .500, this year’s edition of the Great Lakes Invitational is probably the most interesting top to bottom in a long time. All four teams are currently ranked in the top 30 nationally and this is probably the Huskies’ best shot at winning since hitting the post in double overtime back in 2007. The WCHA portion of the schedule won’t be a cake walk either. So far, Michigan Tech is 2–3–1 versus teams currently in the top half of the league and they have 8 games left against them including trips to Duluth, Colorado Springs and Grand Forks. The lone home series versus the top half comes when Nebraska-Omaha makes their first trip to Houghton just in time for Winter Carnival. The Huskies have not fared much better with teams in the bottom half (4–4–0) and they only have 6 games remaining against these teams with a visit to Mankato and home series versus Anchorage and St. Cloud.
WCHA Standings as of December 20, 2011
Green: Series completed, Red: Have not played yet, Yellow: Clustermates, 2 games remaining
With the schedule the way it is, the Huskies will be under a lot of pressure to get max points in those 6 games against the bottom half and Michigan Tech will probably need to steal some points on those tough road trips if they want to host a playoff series for the first time since 1993. The Friday night win at Mariucci has to give the team confidence that it can be done but their showing at Northern Michigan shows just how important it is for the Huskies to show up from the first faceoff until the final horn. Nothing is going to come easy for this team and they can’t take periods off if they expect to even stay where they are in the standings. The return of Tommy Brown combined with the additions of Chad Pietila and Justin Fillion should make ice time even more difficult to come by for players like Daniel Holmberg, Michael Lickteig, Tyler Gubb, Aaron Pietila, Jimmy Davis and Nick Cecere. Pearson and his staff have done a good job of mixing things up to keep players pushing each other for ice time.
Overall, most Michigan Tech fans have to be ecstatic with the steps this team has taken in just 7 months since Pearson took over. Greed could become an issue as expectations rise in Houghton. A GLI title would be a great way to start the Mel Pearson era. The fact that the Huskies haven’t won since Mel wore the black and gold shows just how bad things have been and to expect him to win in his first try is asking a lot. The second half of the season starts on December 29th versus Michigan State. Mel Pearson has had that game circled on his calendar since he took the job. Hopefully this team can start off the second half the same way they started the first: with a pair of exciting wins. Only time will tell if Michigan Tech can continue to surprise everyone and legitimately fight for home ice to the very end. Hopefully, the pep band and the hockey team will be making the trek to St. Paul for the WCHA Final Five this season.