Tech welcomes Chargers to Carnival showcase

HOUGHTON – Michigan Tech senior forward Ryan Furne is about to lace up for his fourth Winter Carnival.

He has seen the environment before. The crowd at capacity. The students at their rowdiest. The pageantry in full swing.

Friends, family and alumni intermingle with local residents for the biggest fan turnout of the year.

He says games like these, with Alabama-Huntsville in town today and Saturday, display the best that college hockey has to offer.

“Atmospheres like that, especially at your own arena, are always a big deal,” Furne said. “You can talk about going to other places like North Dakota or Wisconsin previously, but when we come here and you can have a full house it makes it an even bigger deal.

“When you get that support you want to present yourself in the best light possible. It’s really enjoyable.”

Last season drew 3,500-plus for both games against Alaska-Anchorage at Winter Carnival. The rival Northern Michigan game fell almost 900 fans short of that mark. Even the WCHA opener against top-ranked and historic Minnesota (3,410 attendance) could not quite meet the allure of Carnival.

Senior defenseman and captain Brad Stebner said playing during Winter Carnival will be right up there with his fondest memories as a Husky.

“The hype around campus increases the excitement quite a bit,” Stebner said. “It starts with the All-Nighter on Wednesday, and you have all the sculptures and the other festivities and by the time it gets to Friday night I think people are pretty excited for the game. It’s a great atmosphere and we take pride in that.

“It’s a great opportunity for us.”

Husky coach Mel Pearson believes crowds like this can tip an evenly-matched game in Tech’s favor.

It is impossible not to gain a jump in front of a sold out – and often, ahem, loosened – 3,500 Black and Gold supporters.

“Carnival has that party, spirited, rowdy atmosphere around it,” Pearson said. “Not being in school the students are, umm, much more relaxed and what not. And then you have everyone coming from out of town. It does seem to create a much more adventurous, party atmosphere. Which is great. crowds can be really important. When you are struggling they can boost you, and if you are going well they can help maintain that.”

The opportunity is coming at an ideal time for the Huskies.

Tech played their best and biggest series of the year last weekend, taking all four points from Bowling Green (No. 3 in conference) to jump from a ninth-place tie to a fifth place landing in the standings.

The Huskies trail Alaska-Anchorage by just one-point for the crucial fourth-place position -which nets a home playoff series – with eight games remaining.

A sweep this weekend would put Tech in the pole position for playoff home ice.

And that is exactly what the Huskies expect.

“It doesn’t matter what team we are playing, right now it is more about what we are doing and what we control,” Pearson said. “So it could be (last-placed) Huntsville, or Ferris – heck, it could be the Detroit Red Wings – and we would still have to find a way to compete and get points.”