It was a big game, a conference game, a game in February that really mattered, and a game that the Huskies had to win to stay relevant in the national college hockey landscape. And it was Tech’s third game in five days, something that rarely happens in D1 college hockey.
It was also a game against what has to be the least successful team in all of D1, a team that has lost all thirteen of their D1 contests, with only two overtime losses to show for their effort.
It became a struggle, but the Huskies held on for a 6-4 win over Ferris State Tuesday night. Unfortunately, this win came after a very disappointing weekend in Ohio, when Bowling Green used special team prowess and non-stop intensity to sweep Tech in a critical conference series.
As I’ve been asking myself all season, is this a good team or just a mediocre team? To be honest, I still don’t know. To also be fair, this is probably the oddest season in college hockey ever, with schedules scrambled every week and true interconference games (as opposed to non-conference games against conference foes) a rarity—making it difficult to compare teams across the country.
A Bad Weekend
“The weekend at the college didn’t turn out like you planned” -Steely Dan, Reelin’ In the Years.
I’d say that’s an understatement when it’s applied to Tech’s series with Bowling Green. They started badly in the first period and fell behind on Friday, and then mounted a brief comeback and closed the gap to 4-3. The Falcons proceeded to overpowered them, though, and gain a 6-3 conference win.
On Saturday, Them Dogs started out much better and took an early lead. However, they were having trouble keeping up with BGSU’s intensity and speed, and the Falcons started forcing Tech into the penalty box. While there may have been some questionable calls Saturday, as MTU took eight minors to the Falcons’ four, an impartial review would acknowledge that the Huskies weren’t moving their feet while Bowling Green was applying defensive and offensive pressure at every turn, and referees are going to call penalties frequently when that’s going on.
In truth, BG was the better team for all but perhaps 20 minutes of the two games. The Old Dog was asking himself why this was the case, because it appears that Tech’s talent is good enough to compete with the Falcons, and they’ve shown that against Minnesota State and Bemidji State in the first half of the season.
A Better Tuesday
In Big Rapids Tuesday night, Tech took an immediate lead on a goal by Justin Misiak just 34 seconds into the game. They applied pressure against FSU throughout most of the first period, but Brett Thorne then took a five minute major and a game misconduct penalty for contact to the head. At the 1 minute mark of the second period, the Bulldogs tied it up and the “here we go again” feeling started for the Old Dog and Mrs. Dog as we watched on Flo.
The Huskies then blitzed the other Dawgs with three goals in three minutes, and it looked like they had the game in hand. But FSU is nothing if not determined and got the next two markers to close the gap to 4-3 midway in the third period. Trenton Bliss responded to open up a two goal lead, but the Bulldogs again narrowed it to just one goal at the 18:22 mark—and The Old Dog gulped down another swig of Two Hearted Ale.
Jake Crespi then found an empty net less than 30 seconds later, and a big feeling of relief (perhaps aided by Two Hearted) swept over me, and it ended that way, 6-4 for the Huskies.
Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?
What is it with this team? At first glance, it seems that they are incredibly inconsistent and us fans can never know what to expect. However, a closer look at what happened in these three games suggests that there was a lot more going on than a casual observer might think.
At Bowling Green, the Falcons were smarting after losing two close games to Bemidji State on the Beavers’ home ice. They were looking for some way to take out their frustrations, and MTU was in the wrong place and time to avoid that. And Tech may have been cruising after sweeping Northern in a hurried series that was scheduled after COVID disrupted the schedule yet again.
It’s also likely that the Huskies were suffering from conditioning woes. They’d missed two weeks of practice (COVID again) just before the NMU series, and two games and one week of practice aren’t really enough to regain the high level of fitness needed to compete against a top team like the Falcons. They looked slow early Friday and then really ran out gas on Saturday, particularly when they had to kill so many penalties in the first two periods. In many ways, it was a perfect storm that favored BGSU.
Against Ferris State, the Bulldogs’ wretched record isn’t quite what it seems, either. They’ve played Bowling Green four times, and in two of those games, they gave the Falcons all they could handle. In four games against NMU, every game went right to the wire before they were decided. They have a ton of offensive firepower and just lack experience on defense and talent in goal. Despite their failures, they are not an automatic out.
At times, as the roller coaster ride we’re on with this team has taken Husky Nation through some elevated highs and depressing lows, the Old Dog has wondered about the character of this team. Now, let’s be clear—this is a great group of young men. They are excellent students, with many on the Dean’s List. They are likely to have a graduation rate above 90%, an amazing record at what is almost certainly the WCHA’s most rigorous academic institution. They are polite, well-spoken and terrific representatives of MTU off the ice.
They do, though, seem to lack the fire needed to be a dominant team. Championship teams somehow develop a spirit that says they just won’t yield, a determination that seems to simmer right at the surface and makes them hate losing so badly that they just don’t when it counts.
I don’t really know if that’s true for the Huskies’ 100th team or not. There’s still a lot of hockey left in this season, and I may be dead wrong about whether this team has the character to be a champion. We’ll have a chance to sit in the roller coaster again this coming weekend when they travel to Huntsville to take on UAH. The Chargers are coming off a two week COVID pause, but are a far better team than almost anyone thought they’d be before the season started. I’m ready to go for another ride and see what happens.