Friday morning, with Mrs. Dog at my side, the Old Dog boarded a Delta flight from DFW airport and headed to Huntsville to see the Huskies take on the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers. Of course, flying on Delta, we had to stop in Atlanta. In fact, it’s often said that if you are flying on Delta, and someone tells you to go to hell, you first need to change planes in Atlanta.
With a typical short connection time, we ran through the terminals, and just managed to catch the flight to Huntsville. Then we made the 30-minute flight into Alabama, and we arrived with enough time to take a short nap (Old Dogs sleep a lot…) before heading to downtown Huntsville. First stop—the Voodoo Lounge where Mrs. Dog and I shared a couple of adult beverages to loosen up before embarking on the short walk to the Propst Arena at the Von Braun Center.
At the Voodoo, we met up with BJ, the bartender, who was also tending bar when we visited in January 2017. We talked about our previous visit, why we were in town again, and she gave us a poster from Them Damn Dogs, the local band that plays the Voodoo frequently. In fact, they were just there a couple of weeks ago to kick off Halloween at the Voodoo.
As game time approached, we made our way to the Arena. When you enter the Chargers’ home arena, you are struck by the big scoreboards on each end, which proudly proclaim Huntsville as the “Hockey Capital of the South.” (There are also a fair number of fans dressed as empty seats…)
As we settled in, I noticed there were quite a few Michigan Tech sweaters, hats, and sweat shirts scattered throughout the building. There were forty or fifty Huskies fans on Friday, which was a small fraction of the total attendance of 1,279. But we made up for our small numbers with volume and passion. In fact, I’d say we made about as much noise as the Charger fans, many of whom are still trying to figure out this hockey thing.
We also saw the Chargers’ pep band, who may have been studying the “Living Proof of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, The Cream of the Keweenaw, The Pride of Pastyland, and The Second Best Feeling in the World”— the Huskies Pep band. The Chargers have the funky hat thing going on, and they play with loud enthusiasm. But they can’t match the Huskies for showmanship or tradition. Besides, the Arena plays recordings frequently (notably “Sweet Home Alabama” from Lynyrd Skynyrd), which cuts into their playing time.
Finally, it was game time and we settled in to watch the Huskies and the Chargers. Tech was dominant in a first period that saw the Huskies hold a 19-3 shot advantage, but didn’t manage to put puck past UAH netminder Mark Sinclair. The Old Dog was getting the sinking feeling I had so often last season, when Them Dogs would utterly control play for long stretches, only to see the other guys sneak one in somehow and swing the game energy the other way.
In the opening minutes of the second period, Justin Misiak, on a slick feed from Raymond Brice, got Tech on the Board. Colin Swoyer then potted a second score past Sinclair less than four minutes later and the Huskies looked like they were rolling. But again, the here-we-go-again emotions returned as UAH started slowing the flow and clogging the passing lanes. As was often the case last season, Tech didn’t respond well and the game turned into a back-and-forth struggle.
The flow-of-molasses play continued well into the third period, when, with just nine minutes left, Brandon Salerno scored for UAH to make it 2-1. The rest of the way was nerve wracking, but Tech held on for the win, with goalie Matt Jurusik turning away the rest of the Charger shots. Although the Huskies outshot UAH 40-17 for the night, Huntsville had the shot edge in the final period—a 7-6 advantage—which showed how effective their tactics had been.
Saturday was a beautiful day, with bright sunshine and temperatures in the low 60’s. The Old Dog and Mrs. Dog spent part of the afternoon in Big Spring Park, which sits between the business district where the Voodoo Lounge is located and the Von Braun Center. It’s a wonderful space that’s almost a mile long with ponds, plenty of ducks and koi and the Big Spring (what else could it be?) running from one end to the other.
After our park visit, we made our way to the Martin Bar & Bistro (established 2018, as it says on the sign) located just around the block from the Voodoo Lounge. We caught the first half of the Michigan-Penn State football game, although we had to request that one of the TV’s be changed in order to watch it. After all, Alabama is SEC country and they don’t think football “up north” amounts to much.
At halftime of the football game, Huskies fans started trickling in for the Alumni Association’s social event. With Tech colors dominating the Martin, coach Joe Shawhan dropped by for a meet and greet with everyone, and many of us had a chance to talk with him for a moment or two. There were Husky faithful from all over, and the Alumni Association gave away some great raffle gifts, including a Tech hockey sweater.
Before we knew it, it was time to proceed to the Arena to see the Huskies and Chargers again. The first period was almost a replay of Friday’s third period, but UAH was now counter-attacking when they caused turnover after turnover as Tech seemed to be trying to force the Chargers into a speed game. However, Sinclair and Jurusik made sure that the period was scoreless.
Just 47 seconds into the second period, Keegan Ford scored for the Huskies on a nice setup by Jake Lucchini. Lucchini added a powerplay goal at the 7:27 mark, and Tech once again had a two-goal “worst lead in hockey” advantage. Jurusik made a fine two-on-none save late and that made the two goal lead hold up through the end of the stanza.
With another powerplay to open the third period, the Huskies got a quick tip-in from Greyson Reitmeier to take a three goal lead. Once again, the Chargers, who were winless in their first nine games, refused to quit and Jurusik had to be sharp to keep the three goal advantage. Finally, with Trenton Bliss off for holding, UAH scored on the powerplay with just under six minutes left to make it 3-1, but they didn’t threaten from that point on and the Huskies had the sweep while the Chargers had opened their season with ten straight losses.
On the way back to Texas, the Old Dog turned over these two games in his head. After things had rattled around for a while, I felt there were a lot of things to like about this year’s Huskies. To start, they managed to play reasonably well against a foe that wanted to de-emphasize high-skill hockey. Last year, they didn’t consistently manage to do that until the WCHA playoffs started.
A big part of that came from the steady goaltending that Jurusik provided. Every team will have defensive lapses, and when that happens, the momentum can swing. If your goalie makes the saves he should make–and occasionally makes one he shouldn’t make–the momentum shift won’t be large. Last year, there were too many soft goals, and you could see the whole team sag when that happened. It didn’t happen in Alabama last weekend, and UAH never really gained any intensity from a bad Husky pass or someone being out of position.
We also started to see a team that is willing to do the hard work necessary against a team like the Chargers. Them Dogs still have a long way to go, but we saw the first steps down the road that can lead to success in the league and in the playoffs.
And that was the magic, the Voodoo, that the Old Dog saw in Alabama. We’ll see if they can keep it going against Ferris State in Big Rapids next weekend.