After watching the Huskies grab the Miner’s Cup from Northern Michigan again on Saturday night, the Old Dog got up and played 18 with my wife Carol. I shot an 87, not too bad at this point in my life. If I was 20 years older, I could say I shot my age. Instead, I have to admit that I three-putted four greens and put two shots in the water.
When we got home, I popped open a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale—no Texas beer while watching the Huskies—and tried to settle in and see some hockey. I had a terrible time with BTN Plus, shelling out $14.95 for what amounted to a one-time view of a low-def broadcast. I couldn’t get Adobe Flash to run on my Chromebook (or on my corporate laptop, either) until I finally found the control settings I needed. I finally got to see some of the first period while I struggled with the connection before getting the stream up on my big screen.
And that’s what the Huskies did, too. They struggled. When the Badgers had their wind, they controlled play, kept the puck in the Tech end, and scratched out a couple of goals. Only the Jake Lucchini-Gavin Gould-Joel L’Esperance line seemed to be able to generate any pressure.
The two young defensemen also were a bit wobbly at times. And, truth be told, I suspect Packy Munson wishes he had the first Wisconsin goal back. The Badgers added a power play goal, and were up 2-0.
For the first half of the second period, it looked like more of the same, but with better play in front of Munson, who was rock-solid on a number of Badger chances. Then Them Dogs got things moving. You could see that Bucky’s boys were getting tired—and Tech forced the play, missing a couple of solid chances from short range. Finally, with a great stretch pass from Mark Auk, L’Esperance broke in alone on Wisconsin’s Kyle Hayton and buried it, bringing the Huskies within one.
However, with pressure on Hayton building, Tech over-committed once and the Badgers got a three on one and tallied again. You couldn’t fault Munson—it was just a good play by the Badgers, exploiting a spacing error by Tech.
But Tech didn’t stop pressing, and, at the 18:26 mark, Jake Lucchini blew one into the net from just outside of the crease and Tech was back on the Badgers’ heels.
In the third period, you could see that the Huskies were in applying pressure on nearly every shift, as fatigue was clearly affecting the ‘Sconies. Munson added a great save on a clean breakaway. Tech had several good chances but couldn’t finish and ended up on the short side of a 3-2 game.
So, in the end, here’s the verdict. Tech looked like they belonged on the ice with Wisconsin. The Badgers almost certainly felt fortunate to get out with a victory on their home ice. And, unlike last year’s team, the Huskies didn’t spend much time in the penalty box. But a big non-conference loss is significant, and attention now needs to turn to the game with Union on Friday.
Union lost a tough one in their opener against Boston University, dropping a 4-1 game—but BU had two empty net scores. It was close until the end, and Union, rated #16 in the first pre-season poll, gave the #2 Terriers all they wanted. Kind of like Tech did to Wisconsin.
So, on Friday there will be two teams, each with NCAA tournament aspirations, squaring up at the AMSOIL arena in Duluth, both eager to put up an important Pair Wise win.
What do the Dutchmen bring to the arena this year? With 18 players back from last year’s NCAA tournament team—a team that got dusted in the first round by Penn State 10-3—they should be strong. But they lost their top two scorers, who accounted for 125 points. That is a very large hole to fill up front. In fact, it’s more than one third of Tech’s total for the entire roster last season. They also lost their starting goalie, and their two returning net minders have a total of 10 games of D-I experience. They return four defensemen from last season, but have added three freshmen to their defensive roster.
On paper, Union sounds a lot like Tech.
So, this will be a big game for the Huskies, one they should be positioned to win, but one in which they should not take anything for granted. They need to start strong. They also need more pressure from their 2-3-4 lines, and continued solid goaltending. Tech should also benefit just a bit from the neutral site. Duluth and AMSOIL are almost home country for Tech, and Union will be traveling from Schenectady, New York.
As I suggested in my column last week, the Huskies need non-conference wins against quality teams if they really want to be NCAA tournament contenders. No better place to start than with the Dutchmen.
Two-Hearted Ale, like most IPA’s, can be somewhat bitter. But it would taste much better with a victory.