The old saw suggests that when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. But, sometimes, you just don’t have enough sugar to make the lemonade sweet enough to drink.
Such was the fate of the Huskies this past weekend when they hosted Bowling Green. Playing their 5th and 6th games in 13 days, traveling from Houghton to Detroit to Phoenix and back to Houghton, Them Dogs were faced with a few lemons. But the pile of lemons in front of Tech grew larger when a number of key players—and even coach Joe Shawhan—were laid low with what was publicly identified as an ‘illness.’ After hearing more from various sources, it seems likely that this ‘illness’ is the ‘B’ strain of influenza that is moving through the US population at breakneck speed.
So, with a team that had been through four very intense and physical games (the GLI tournament and Arizona State), Tech fielded a lineup that included three skaters with very limited play this season (David Raisenen-1 previous game, Tyrell Buckley-1 previous game, and Todd Kiilunen-2 previous games). Add in the absence of Keegan Ford and Tommy Parrottino, and the challenge was certainly large.
On the other side of the ice, BGSU had their entire roster in good health, and BGSU had played three games, all at home, in the same period. They’d lost those games (1 to Miami and 2 to Northern Michigan), and were keyed up to get back on track. With all of that in front of Tech, it’s no surprise that the Huskies came out slowly and the Falcons were up 3-0 near the end of the second period, when Parker Saretsky’s powerplay tally cut the lead to 3-1 with just 6 seconds left in the second stanza.
Seamus Donahue then closed it to 3-2 with 10:31 left to go, but Them Dogs just didn’t have enough in the tank to pull even. In watching this game, it was evident that even some of the guys who were in the lineup were not at full intensity. Tech was beaten to the puck in the corners time and again, and Bowling Green seemed to know exactly where the Huskies’ passes were going and repeatedly caused turnovers. Moreover, goalie Matt Jurusik, who’s been a key to Tech’s hot streak in November and December, clearly wasn’t at his best and let in two goals that he normally would have stopped, including a giveaway that was his responsibility. Shawhan pulled Jurusik after two periods, and Blake Pietila finished the third period and stopped all six shots he faced.
On Saturday, the lineup was closer to normal and Jurusik was sharper. Tech had more energy and was generating more quality scoring chances, but they again seemed a bit sluggish, particularly on the forecheck. BGSU pulled ahead in the second on the powerplay before Ray Brice made a great move after a nice feed by Alex Smith and tied it up.
In the final regulation period, Brian Halonen made an end-to-end rush at the 2:51 mark and scored an absolute highlight reel goal. (If you haven’t seen this one, you can catch it here starting at the 2:48 mark in the video.) As the period wore on, though, it was clear the Huskies weren’t just battling a ranked BG team, but also fatigue. The Falcons got the equalizer about five minutes later, and the overtime system kicked in. The five-on-five session yielded no scoring, but BGSU quickly scored a goal on the short side in the 3 on 3 session—another that Jurusik would have had when he was going well—and the Falcons took 5 of 6 points from Tech for the weekend.
What do we make of all this? It was certainly a hard weekend, losing by one in the first game and in the gimmicky 3-on-3 in the second. Here’s the aftermath.
- Tech fell to 6th in the WCHA with 25 points, three back of both Alaska and Bowling Green who currently hold the fourth spot (and final home playoff berth)
- The Huskies remained in the top twenty of the USCHO poll, but dropped two slots to 19th
- In the critical pairwise calculation, Tech is now 18th and on the outside looking in for an at-large NCAA tournament berth.
All in all, this was a tough weekend for Tech, and it seems a sad bit of fate that the Huskies had to perform in a critical series without a full complement of players and at less-than-full power due to illness. However, there’s only one thing that they can do given this turn of events—they need to pick themselves up and try to recover.
The coming weekend, however, is going to be another tough one. They have to make the long bus ride to Bemidji State to face a Beavers team that is in second place and just five points behind WCHA leader Minnesota State. BSU (not to be confused with BGSU) has won four in a row after a very disappointing two-loss performance in the Mariucci Classic tournament. Their four wins include sweeps of both Ferris State and Alabama-Huntsville. And while this isn’t tremendously impressive by itself, you can bet the Beavers will be full of confidence.
There may well be residual effects from last weekend including more cases of ‘illness’ ahead for MTU this week. Add in Tech’s troubles in Bemidji last year, and there are just a few more lemons in front of Them Dogs.
If Tech can get through the weekend at Bemidji (not have it end up like a Weekend at Bernie’s), the schedule starts to tilt in their favor, as they get a shot at the bottom section of this year’s WCHA. Here’s the agenda after the Bemidji series:
- At home against Ferris State (currently 6-15-2)
- On the road against Alabama-Huntsville (now 1-18-3)
- Winter Carnival hosting Lake Superior State (7-19-2 so far)
- At Ferris State—followed by a bye weekend
- The final series of the year, the cat-and-dog battle with Northern Michigan
It’s not outside of the question that MTU could win out, giving them 61 points, which will almost certainly be enough for a home ice series in the WCHA playoffs. More realistically, if they split with Bemidji and NMU but sweep the lower echelon group, they’d end up with 52 points. That probably wouldn’t jump them ahead of Bemidji (who already has 47 points) and would likely lead to a nail-biting final series with the Wildcats as Bowling Green, Alaska, and Northern could all be in a mad scramble for home ice in the playoffs.
Of course, all of that assumes the Huskies won’t stumble against the weaker teams, and that’s not assured, either. At this point, Tech needs to move into full-on playoff mode if they want to have a real shot at the NCAA tournament.
Will there be enough sugar to make the lemonade sweet enough to drink? We’ll have to see, but the illness factor is certainly a large chunk of sour lemon juice they’ll have to overcome.