No choice but bounce-back for Tech vs. NMU

HOUGHTON – Michigan Tech hockey coach Mel Pearson said last weekend was the worst his team had played in three years.

It’s hard to argue with the assertion.

The 14 goals Alaska (Fairbanks) scored in the sweep were the most the Huskies had given up in one series since Pearson returned to Houghton. Tech went from controlling its own destiny for playoff home ice to a middle-of-the-pack fight just to qualify for the WCHA postseason. The effort level from Friday’s game was simply insufficient.

Pearson said the team got “fat and happy” after a four-game winning streak.

So now what?

How does a squad respond after a weekend like that?

According to Pearson, they ignore it. Push it out of their minds. They have Northern Michigan to play today in Houghton before traveling to Marquette to complete the series Saturday. There is no time to dawdle on mistakes made.

“You forget about it as quick as possible, especially in this type of situation,” Pearson said. “If it’s early in the year you might use it for teaching or this and that, but in my two and a half years here, that is as bad a weekend as we’ve had. Easily. And it’s so unlike our team, that you just want to forget about and get back to what we do best. You can’t get too high when you sweep Bowling Green, and you can’t get so low after that. The best bet is just to put it behind you.”

The Huskies are attempting to put it behind them by getting back to the things they do well.

Avoid loose penalties. Keep forwards wide and clean up in front of the net. Roll four lines and wear on teams with 12 capable Essentially return to the strengths that have won them 12 games.

“It wasn’t that long ago that we were winning,” Tech forward Tanner Kero said. “We know we are capable of beating any team, we just have to work and fight for it.”

If last weekend’s series was a luxury for Tech, tonight and Saturday’s games are desperate.

Four points split five teams in the middle of the WCHA standings, while current cellar dwellers Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State still have six games to play to most others’ four, effectively putting themselves smack in the middle as well.

Two teams of that seven-team bunch will earn home ice for the playoffs starting Mar. 14, while one school from that grouping will miss the postseason entirely.

After two games with the Wildcats, the Huskies will take a bye week before ending the regular season at No. 2 Minnesota State.

“We have to get wins, plain and simple,” Pearson said. “While we could still earn home ice, we could drop out of the playoffs all together. We have to find a way to get wins, no matter what.”

Fans braving the blizzard conditions today should not expect a typical rivalry series with Northern.

It should be better than that.

Neither team can afford loose penalties borne out of the usual chippiness that comes from rivalries. Instead, both teams should be bringing the energy necessary to keep their season alive.

“It has just elevated the rivalry,” Pearson said. “When you play a team four times you get to know them, they get to know you and you get to not like each other. Then throw in all the other stuff from this time of year.

“It is as big of series as anything except for playing for first place.”

Hancock native Kero has seen quite a bit of Northern in his time in the Copper Country.

He cannot remember a series as crucial as this one.

“Growing up I remember it was always a packed house, intense, it didn’t matter what the records were or whether one team was struggling or not. That game was always tight, always close,” Kero said. “Now you throw all the other stuff into the mix, playoffs and the standings and everything, and it’s just going to be a really intense weekend.”