After an emotional roller coaster ride at the 2018 Great Lakes Invitational, the 2018-19 Husky squad heads into an extremely difficult last half of the season. After a jubilant shootout win against Michigan, the team Mel Pearson left for after six seasons in Houghton, Them Dogs fell to Lake Superior State in an ugly game. The split marked yet another loss in a tournament championship game for Tech, and left a bitter taste in the mouths of HuskyNation.
To be fair, the Lakers really had the Huskies’ number in the second game. They knew exactly how to forecheck Tech by taking advantage of the Tech’s desire to take two or three strides whenever they got control of the puck in their own end. Time and again, one or sometimes two Laker forwards descended on whichever Huskie had the puck, and turnover after turnover resulted. Not only did this lead to excellent scoring chances, but it also put a real damper on Tech’s offensive flow.
At the same time, Them Dogs didn’t give up. They fought back from a 2-0 deficit to tie it up, and then, after falling behind again by two, they scored a powerplay goal early in the third period. But the Lakers were never really headed, and the shot total, 40-21, made that clear. Two empty net goals by LSSU ballooned the final score to 6-3. Only some great work in goal by Robbie Beydoun, “the Robber,” prevented things from really getting out of hand.
The flat-out excitement of the win in the first game against the Wolverines made the loss to LSSU feel worse. Tommy Parrottino’s shootout winner has had more than 2,700 views on YouTube, as Huskie fans relived that moment again and again. Beating Mel Pearson undoubtedly made it a moment to savor, but it’s time to look ahead after all of the up-and-down we’ve seen in the 2018 portion of this year’s schedule.
As the Romans would have said, “Quo Vadis?” which literally means “Which way are you marching?” Tech’s played 20 games so far and is 10-8-2, with shootout wins in both of the ties. They have 16 games left on the regular season schedule, and, for both the Huskies and their ardent fans, there could be an awful lot of rough trail for Them Dogs to race through.
The adversity starts next weekend as Tech travels to Mankato to take on Minnesota State. There’s no question that the Mavericks are not only one of the top WCHA teams, but they are also a legitimate national power. With an 11-5-2 record—and playing on home ice—the Mavs will be tough. The Purple Cows didn’t have a pleasant holiday tournament experience, either, out in the Desert Classic. They lost a third period lead to Minnesota-Duluth in the opening game, and then tied Arizona State in the consolation round. Nevertheless, they’re still tied for fifth in the national pairwise rankings.
There’s no rest after that as Bowling Green comes to Houghton the following weekend. BGSU is 13-3-3, ranked 8th in the pairwise, and are just one point behind Tech in the WCHA standings. The following weekend, Tech heads to Bemidji, with one of the games played outside in the frigid land of northern Minnesota. While Tech bombed the Beavers one night in Houghton, they won in a 3 on 3 overtime period on the other night. It won’t be an easy trip.
After Bemidji, the Huskies continue the taxing travel with a trek to Alaska for what could be an easier time against Alaska-Anchorage. The Seawolves are, without question, the worst team in the WCHA and probably the worst in all of Division I hockey. But they always give Tech fits, particularly at home, so there’s certainly the possibility of getting less than 6 points.
And after that (it’s getting tiring saying that…), Minnesota State comes to Houghton for Winter Carnival weekend. That’s followed by a trip to the Soo to face the Lakers—and we saw how tough they are this past Monday. The Seawolves then come to the JMac, and the season ends with the traditional home-and-home with Northern Michigan. In the entire run, there’s not a single weekend off.
These 16 games will show us how good this year’s team really is. At times, it’s been easy to forget how young this team is. There are only five seniors on the team, and only one senior defenseman. Freshmen have played a huge role in Them Dogs’ success so far, and the gauntlet that lies ahead may be too much for this year’s team.
Several weeks ago, I compared this year’s incoming players to the 1971-72 freshmen on the Tech team coached by John MacInnes. That year, the Huskies played the second half of the season in the brand new Student Ice Arena, and I had a seat at every home game. It was actually the first time that I had enough money and enough seats were available for me to buy a half-season ticket. With the future Mrs. Dog sitting next to me, we watched that team struggle. They ended up 16-17-1 and finished 7th in the WCHA.
Little did we know that the freshmen from the 71-72 season would be the nucleus of the greatest teams that have ever worn the Huskie uniform. They improved to 24-14-1 in ’73, and lost in the NCAA championship game the next year. Tech’s third national title followed in ’75, and they again lost in the final in ’76, their senior year.
The difficult of the coming schedule and the cracks that we’ve all seen developing in this year’s team make me think we may see a repeat of the less-than-thrilling first year of that 1972 story line. The Old Dog hopes not, but if this year’s team can finish above .500 I think it will be a major tribute to all of these young men.
It could be worse, though, and Tech’s devoted followers need to brace for some very bumpy spots in the next 8 weeks. If not, the Old Dog will need a full supply of Two Hearted Ale to get through some of these weekends. The only drawback is that the 210 calories in each bottle can do a lot of damage to an Old Dog’s waistline, particularly if I feel enough pain to require two on some of those nights.