When the Old Dog was just a wee pup of seven years, I began to learn the meaning of disappointment for a sport fan. I was a huge football fan, living in the Detroit area, and the Lions had been among the NFL’s elite for several years. In late December of 1957, the Lions were about to play the Cleveland Browns for the NFL Championship—the first Super Bowl was ten years away at that time—and my father had tickets for the game, which would be played in Briggs Stadium (later Tiger Stadium).
I had already played a year of youth football. I was too young by the rules, but things were looser in those days, and because I was bigger than most other seven-year-olds, the let me play. And so, I really, really wanted to go to the game. But my father said no. I said “Why not?” and my Dad reeled off a number of reasons. First, it was too cold. Second, he had standing room tickets and I probably couldn’t see much, and third, I would get tired and complain.
I shot back that I was big enough, I wasn’t afraid of the cold, and I promised not to complain. At that point, my father simply said, “You’re not going and that’s that.” So, I did what most seven year olds might do—I had a temper tantrum. My father then said to me, “Don’t worry, Mike. You’ll get another chance.”
That was 62 years ago, and I’m still waiting. The only consolation I got was that the Lions blasted the Browns 59-17.
Until he passed away a couple of years ago, I used to remind my father about this just around Super Bowl time and tell him I was still waiting. He chuckled, and we both enjoyed the memory.
But the truth is that I’m still disappointed. The Lions have found a way to screw up just about every way possible, and I think they invented a couple of new ways to lose key games over the years. Since that last championship, they’ve only won a single playoff game. Talk about disappointment. And this is a disappointment that keeps on giving, year after year after year.
Living in Dallas, we don’t see the Lions on TV here very often, but both Mrs. Dog and I can’t resist peeking in on the web or the NFL network to look at the scores. We often ask each other if the Lions have blown it yet on most Sunday afternoons, because we know they probably will either get way behind early or lose a lead late. 62 years without even a sniff of a championship is hugely frustrating.
All of this puts the Huskies’ two losses this past weekend to Minnesota State into perspective. These were very tough losses, as Them Dogs were ahead against the best team in the WCHA until very late in each game. Worse, the key plays that led to MSU’s two late scores came as a result of poor decisions in the defensive end. As Joe Shawhan said after Saturday’s game, “We find ways of making things very difficult on ourselves.”
And the sting lingers because for most of both games, Them Dogs had either matched or outplayed the Mavericks. Add in some insanely great goaltending from Matt Jurusik, and the Winter Carnival series was quite impressive. In fact, the Old Dog will go on the record and say that these two games were, with the exception of the two late errors, the best hockey that Tech has played so far in this season. Make no mistake, the Mavericks are the class of the WCHA and the way the Huskies played was rousing.
So, how disillusioned should Husky Nation be at this point? Tech’s fallen from first to sixth place in just about five weeks, and they have just six games left on the schedule— a road trip to the Soo and Lake Superior State this coming weekend, followed by two with Anchorage at home, and then the home-and-home finale with Northern Michigan. LSSU and NMU are both ahead of Tech the scramble for home playoff ice, so there’s still a chance that Shawhan’s squad could bounce back and then make another strong playoff run. But there’s also a chance that they could go 2-4 or even worse, and then lose two straight on the road in the WCHA playoffs.
Let’s step back for a second, and try and view this in a broader context. As I’ve said many times in many ways, this is a young team, and young teams make gaffes that more experienced teams don’t make. Moreover, it’s not a return to the bad old days when MTU was an easy win for almost every team on the schedule.
Looking at it another way, Tech’s made the NCAA tournament three times in the past four seasons—and only missed out in the fourth year via a 1-0 loss in the WCHA playoff final to Ferris State. That’s a real run, and sooner or later, a program like Tech will have to reload if not rebuild.
For the Old Dog, the real question is whether this team can continue to learn from their errors. As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In the next six games, we’ll get to see if this year’s edition of the Huskies can get stronger—or if all of us, players and coaches and fans, have to lick our wounds and look forward to next year.