Michigan Tech had been self destructing in the weeks prior to its series with Minnesota.
The Huskies were taking silly penalties, giving up too many power-play goals, and not taking advantage of the opportunities they had with the man advantage.
That all changed this past weekend against the Gophers. The Huskies played two of their best games of the season despite dropping both contests to Minnesota.
"I think it starts with our discipline," Tech coach Jamie Russell said of the series with the Gophers. "Our players fought hard. They competed hard.
"They didn't take any bad penalties on the weekend. Our specialty teams were much improved. Our power play was very good. Our penalty kill was improved. It's not exactly where we need it to be, but it's a good step in the right direction."
Another reason the Huskies played better against Minnesota was they had some of their key players back in the lineup. The return of forward Jordan Baker and center Eric Kattelus was a big plus for Tech.
"It was a big boost for us getting Jordan Baker and Eric Kattelus back," Russell said. "They're two players who are top six forwards.
"Eric was good on face-offs and that makes a big difference in terms of your time of possession. It helps a lot on specialty teams with a penalty kill. You can win a face-off, get possession of the puck and get it cleared right away.
"Even-strength, they (the opponent) get some pressure in our end, and we can go out off a whistle and win a face-off and get it (the puck) out of our end."
Baker, Kattelus and the rest of the Huskies will look to carry over the momentum they build up against the Gophers into this Friday night's game with Northern Michigan. But the Huskies will have to work their way around final exam week as they prepare for the Wildcats.
"It's a different week in terms of preparation because the players have exams," Russell said. "We don't do a lot of teaching, today's (Monday) a day off.
"Guys have exams and they're preparing for exams, so today we don't have anything scheduled. We'll have optional practices as the week goes on built around players' exam schedules.
"It's (playing NMU) a good opportunity. We're playing our biggest rival, and if we can get some more players back, that will certainly help our depth situation."
Heinonen sees some ice time
Hancock native Pete Heinonen saw his first action in a Tech uniform Saturday. Heinonen, who had been put on the roster due to all the injuries the Huskies had suffered, had one shift in the first period and another in the second.
Heinonen is unsure how much he will play the rest of the season. How much time he gets will be determined by how many healthy bodies Tech has the rest of the season.
"I'm excited," Heinonen said of his chance to play with the Huskies. "I'm just going to work hard and try to keep improving.
"I've wanted to play for Tech all my life, so it's a great opportunity."
Baker celebrates return to lineup
Junior forward Jordan Baker returned to Tech's lineup with a bang Friday night. Baker had a goal in the second period to give the Huskies a 2-0 lead.
The goal was Baker's third of the season. Baker led the team in scoring last season with 16 goals and 11 assists.
"In hockey there's a lot of ups and downs for a player," Baker said. "It's obviously frustrating not putting in the puck as much as I did last year, but it starts in practice.
"I've just got to start shooting the puck a lot more and working hard to get in those scoring areas. If I give myself chances, I'm giving myself a chance to score and I've just got to start burying them."
Gwilliam having big year
Senior captain Malcolm Gwilliam has been one of Tech's most productive players this season. Gwilliam has scored seven goals and added seven helpers for 14 points.
He had two points in the Huskies' loss on Saturday. Gwilliam, who missed most of last season after suffering a stroke, hadn't scored a goal since a 3-2 win over Minnesota Duluth on Nov. 13.
"Obviously it feels good to produce point-wise, but there are a lot of other ways you can get the job done, being physical, making smart decisions, being a leader, I need to do that every night," Gwilliam said. "Obviously it's nice to get a goal tonight (Saturday) after being away.
"It feels good. We've just got to get on the right track and start winning some games."
Schooley starting to roll
Freshman Anthony Schooley netted his third goal of the season Saturday against the Gophers. The goal was his second in his last five games.
Schooley now has three goals and two assists so far this season.
His first goal of the season came back on Oct. 24 in a game at Colorado College.
Schooley played on the first line Saturday with Malcolm Gwilliam and Brett Olson. And playing with those two helped Schooley immensely.
"It's a great experience playing with those two," Schooley said of Olson and Gwilliam. "They're both great hockey players.
"It was a great opportunity to start in front of your home crowd as a freshman."
K.D. Warvie can be reached at kwarvie@mininggazette. com.