Back in late December, we discussed the tough road ahead for Michigan Tech to earn a home playoff spot for the first time since 1993. So far this January, the Huskies have remained focused in the pursuit, earning seven of a possible eight points with two important wins versus Alaska–Anchorage at home and a stunningly impressive three points on the road against the #1-ranked Minnesota–Duluth Bulldogs. Michigan Tech has seen its odds of hosting a playoff series increased from around 33% after the sweep of Alaska–Anchorage all the way to 57% today according to PlayoffStatus.com. Michigan Tech is also looking at a 75% chance at finishing in the top seven.
The dominant fashion in which the Huskies played the final 105 minutes of the series at Amsoil Arena speaks volumes about where this team is mentally. After the opening series with American International, they’ve struggled mightily versus non-conference opponents, including last Saturday’s disappointing loss to Northern Michigan. That loss appeared to demoralize the Huskies given the sluggish way they came out versus the Bulldogs on Friday, but after a horrid first 20 minutes, Michigan Tech out-hustled Minnesota–Duluth all weekend. It’s well documented that the Michigan Tech players set home ice as a lofty goal at the beginning of the season, and it seems like this team is really responding to the staff. The penalty kill has been spectacular and the Huskies found a way to not only finish, but also shut down the top offense in the country.
This weekend marks many special accomplishments for Michigan Tech. It was the biggest win for Michigan Tech since taking down #1 ranked North Dakota at MacInnes Ice Arena by a 3–1 score on October 26, 2007. Their 12th win gets the Huskies back to .500; if they can keep it up, it will be the first non-losing season since the memorable 2006–07 season when the Huskies made their last trip to the Final Five. Their 9th win in conference play this season exceeds the total of eight wins Michigan Tech had in the previous three seasons of WCHA play combined.
On the player side of things, ten players have at least 10 points, including three freshmen. Brett Olson (24) and Jordan Baker (22) already have more points than last season’s leading scorers (three tied at 21). Goals are very evenly spread out: six players are tied for the team lead of eight goals and two more players have seven goals. Last season, only two players managed more than eight goals and the third leading goal scorer sat at seven. With 79 total goals this season, the Huskies have already surpassed their offensive output of last season (75), not to mention surpassed their total in WCHA games by scoring 62 so far compared to only 49 last season.
Next weekend brings an interesting series when Michigan Tech travels to face Minnesota State Mankato. The Mavericks have struggled this season and currently sit in 11th place. With the way the Huskies played in Duluth, this should be an easy series, but when Minnesota State visited Houghton earlier in the season, Michigan Tech had a huge letdown, barely winning on Friday (1–0) and losing badly Saturday (6–3). They must be focused on this series and not get ahead of themselves with thoughts of Nebraska–Omaha’s coming to town and all that goes along with Winter Carnival. Winter Carnival will be a huge series on many levels but the Huskies cannot forgot the importance of the four points available in Mankato. Sweeping Minnesota State will put them in the driver’s seat to finish in the top six and give them a great chance to return to Xcel Energy Center. Getting there and showing they belong in the WCHA as currently constructed will go a long way in setting up this program for years to come.
In other news, there was nothing but praise this weekend for Mitch’s Misfits from Mel Pearson and the Huskies players. Friday night during the Coach’s Corner portion of the Mix 93 post game show, Coach Pearson made a point to thank the Misfits:[quote]I want to give a shout out to Mitch’s Misfits. They were downstairs and it seemed like there were 80 or 90 of them. They were all excited and the support we got from our fans that came over here was tremendous. That really means a lot to our players so I want to thank them also.[/quote]
After the big win on Saturday the players were greeted with chants and high fives from all the Misfits in attendance, which was quite the sight to see. On their bus ride home, quite a few players thanked the fans via Twitter:
The most amazing part of Mitch’s Misfits this weekend is that they may have been at their best while Michigan Tech trailed 4–0 early in the second period. They certainly stayed loud and proud of their hockey team from start to finish both nights. They were classy and respectful, and they even took a moment to sing happy birthday to a young Bulldog fan sitting near them. Duluth has always been a great road trip for Mitch’s Misfits, not to mention that Grandma’s Sports Garden down in Canal Park is where the name “Mitch’s Misfits” was coined and Mitch Lake gave his blessing. Hopefully this rivalry continues in some form beyond the breakup of the current WCHA because it’s been a blast to get so many Misfits out on a road trip and take over another team’s building. Congrats to Gina Salvi and the rest of the Mitch’s Misfits executive board for organizing a great trip and keeping the tradition that past student supporters worked so hard to create alive and flourishing in Section L and away from MacInnes Ice Arena.