The 2010 Midwest Regionals at Michigan Tech were a great experience for all involved - media, fans and teams alike.
But as a resident of the Copper Country, I was left just a little disappointed by one thing: the weather.
As you might remember, last year's tournament was preceded by a freakish warm snap. The schedule was delayed because Findlay couldn't fly in on time, but not because of the Storm of the Century, but because of fog.
What kind of a face was that putting forward for the Copper Country?
Welcoming visitors to Houghton in March without snow is like running into a movie star without her make-up, visiting Disney World when Space Mountain is closed for maintenance, or going to Wrigley Field for a rain-out.
While attending Saturday's Michigan Tech-North Dakota game, I was reminded somewhere between goals seven and eight, I think, that I had picked Tech to win 2-1 this week. Is it too late to claim that I meant to pick 2-11 and there was a typo? I guess so. It's been a season full of mistakes for me in the prognostication department, but let's take one more crack at the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
12. Michigan Tech at
1. North Dakota
It remains to be seen if last weekend's series was some sort of elaborate rope-a-dope strategy, because it didn't look very good. With newly crowned WCHA Player of the Year Matt Frattin still going at full speed, it's hard to believe that the Sioux have punched themselves out.
The Verdict: ND in two.
11. Minnesota State at 2. Denver
Neither of these teams look great going into the postseason. Denver, which split last weekend with St. Cloud to finish six points behind North Dakota for the regular-season crown, is a very mediocre 5-5 in its last 10 games. Mankato, on the other hand, finished the regular season by getting swept by Alaska Anchorage ... in Mankato. Oops. Being the first team in more than a year to get swept by the Seawolves at home? That's a worse omen.
The Verdict: DU in two.
10. Bemidji State at 3. Nebraska Omaha
This week's all-newbie series illustrates just how bad my preseason predictions were. I thought Omaha would be languishing near the bottom of the league and Bemidji be at least a contender for home ice. Oops. Turned out I shouldn't have bet against Dean Blais, the new WCHA Coach of the Year. Shockingly, BSU has won seven of a possible eight points in this series. Considering UNO is 3-3 in its last six, this is no gimme, but I still like the Mavericks to win a close one.
The Verdict: UNO in three.
9. St. Cloud State at 4. Minnesota Duluth
After earning their first NCAA win, the Other Huskies aren't poised to repeat the feat. Duluth isn't exactly blowing anyone's doors off, either, but they won't come into this weekend unaware of SCSU's potential, not after losing 8-2 to them at home on Feb. 11. Duluth's results in its new rink have been very hit-or-miss, but I foresee more of the hit this weekend.
The Verdict: UMD in two.
8. Alaska-Anchorage at 5. Minnesota
Well, look. The Golden Gophers are undefeated for a month, a rare string of consistency for this up-and-down program. But Anchorage appears to be capable of winning games in the Lower 48 now, and who know when the next Gopher nosedive will be, so ... bam! There's your upset pick.
The Verdict: UAA in three.
7. Wisconsin at 6. Colorado College
Tech, theoretically, used the rope-a-dope strategy, knowing it would face North Dakota in the playoffs a week later. Wisconsin used the fear tactic, taking down CC 3-1 Saturday for a series split. The teams meet again this weekend in the Springs. CC has a rather skittish home playoff history (upset in 2009, 2007, 2006), which makes this an easy pick.
The Verdict: UW in two.
Last week: 8-3-1
For the Season: 113-83-19 (57.0 percent)
This week, the Copper Country gets another chance. And we along with Mother Nature, that cruel mistress that both blesses us with winter beauty and curses us with winter roads, welcome seven basketball teams and their fans to the area, to a city that looks a little more like the 'real Houghton' than it did last year.
At the beginning of the week, a storm was predicted for the area, which led me (and others) to wonder if there would be another series of schedule disruptions.
It turned out to be just enough wet slop to make the drive home from Ontonagon Wednesday night a challenge. After the first two months of this winter, I was bracing for the worst, but the relative mildness of things lately has been a pleasant surprise.
Speaking of pleasant surprises, just getting back to this point has been a pleasant surprise for those of us that have watched Tech this season.
By now, everyone knows what the Huskies lost on the floor to graduation last spring: six players, five starters, a distinguished head coach. That could have made this year a classic example of a 'rebuilding year,' but instead the Huskies have truly reloaded (that's why I used the 'RELOADING YEAR' headline Monday).
They have the same number of losses: two. They have the same national ranking heading into the tournament: third. They have the same seed in the Midwest Regional: one.
To paraphrase Rick Pitino, Katie Wysocky's not walking through that door (and if she did, she would be out of eligibility), but this team has established its own identity and can stand on its own with the other great teams in Tech's history.
Whether it be the outstanding all-around game of Lucy Dernovsek, the offensive decision-making and 3-point shooting of Sam Hoyt and Angela Guisfredi or the defensive prowess of Lindsey Lindstrom, this team has earned the chance to keep playing at home and earned the respect of its fan base.
There's more work to do, and we at The Daily Mining Gazette are looking forward to watching it, starting tonight against Lewis.
So, like the conditions outside the SDC Gym, the conditions inside are a little different as well. No matter what the situation, the Copper Country will surely put its best face forward this weekend - it's just that this one might look a little more familiar.