"It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." Michigan Tech hockey coach Mel Pearson did not invent that quote, nor has he used it verbatim, but the mantra seems fitting as the Huskies continue to develop new "standards of play" under Pearson's leadership.
Most coaches would be thrilled with a 7-2 victory over the No. 2 team in the country. Most coaches would also be upset after a 3-1 loss against an unranked opponent. It's obvious Pearson is not like most coaches.
The Huskies' first-year head coach was certainly pleased with the result of Friday's game against Denver, but was disappointed in the team's performance in the second half of the game. Likewise, he thought the previous Saturday's loss to Bemidji State was Tech's best-played game of the year. It's early in the year, but Pearson's performance-based evaluation model has certainly worked so far.
"I told the kids after the game that's how we judge them: how they play, the intensity, smarts, effort and execution," he said after Saturday's 2-2 tie against Denver. "... If we play like that we're going to win a lot of hockey games."
And that's the difference. The quote this column started off with is often used to encourage sportsmanship over results - rightfully so - but I think Pearson would tell you if the game is played in the right way, consistently and aggressively, the results will come ... even without a win-at-all-costs approach.
The Huskies (5-2-1, 3-2-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) are now ranked at No. 16 in the USCHO.com poll after stealing three of four points from Denver, just two weeks after sweeping then-No. 18 Wisconsin. Tech has not lost at home yet either (5-0-1).
Minnesota State (1-5-0, 0-2-0 WCHA) is coming to town this weekend, followed by a week off before consecutive trips to Alaska-Anchorage (3-4-1, 0-4-0 WCHA) and St. Lawrence (0-4-0, 0-0-0 ECAC). The Huskies' upcoming schedule certainly looks promising to build on the early-season success - but don't tell that to the coaches or players.
"The first thing we did (Monday) was brought our team out on the ice after warmups, and asked them what Minnesota State's record was. They knew. And I asked them if I should be concerned about that. They said 'no.' I asked them why. They said it doesn't matter who we're playing. And that's exactly right," Pearson said.
"It doesn't matter if we're playing the Detroit Red Wings or a AAA Midget team, we have to set a standard of play, and that's how we have to play. It's not about the opponent - it's about our team - and we still have a lot to prove. As far as coaches, we won't let them have a letdown," he added.
Michigan Tech's sudden success has baffled people all over the country when it comes to developing long-term expectations of the team. Some are quick to remind others about last year's 3-0-2 start that led to a 4-30-4 finish. Others are ready to crown Tech champions before a game has even been played in November.
If Tech's fan base wants to follow Pearson-like "standards of fandom," perhaps it would be best to sit back and enjoy watching 60-65 minutes of gutsy effort every night and let the results fall where they may.
Football: After hurdles, eyes on the finish
The Huskies football team has played with the kind of effort that would make Mel Pearson proud, but unfortunately with a much smaller margin for error in a 10-game conference season, the Huskies have fallen on the wrong side of several "coin-flip games," as coach Tom Kearly calls them - most recently a 24-20 loss to Grand Valley State Saturday.
Tech gave up 13-3 and 20-10 leads to powerhouse GVSU to lose its third game by a touchdown or less this season.
"It was a good football game, but the wrong team won," Kearly said. "It was a great environment with over 10,000 fans, and we played very well. ... It was another coin flip, and we didn't get the breaks."
The Huskies held GVSU to 34 points and 100 yards fewer than the Lakers had averaged in the previous four games, but Grand Valley scored the final 14 points to emerge victorious.
GVSU receivers Charles Johnson (6-foot-3) and Jovonne Augustus (6-5) both won jump balls for the final two touchdowns against Tech's shorter defensive backs.
Thanks to the result, Tech wideout Steve Worthy (5-foot-11) may have been overshadowed literally and figuratively by GVSU's tall receivers - but the Huskies' senior had a stellar game as part of a terrific final season.
The Detroit native hauled in nine catches for 165 yards and a school-record-tying three touchdowns Saturday, bringing his season totals to 38 catches for 656 yards and seven touchdowns.
"He's had a very good year - his best year is his senior year, and that's kind of what you hope to have: save the best for last," Kearly said.
Tech (5-4, 4-4 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) is not fighting for the playoffs anymore, but 16 seniors will be playing their final two games for the Black and Gold, including the final home game this Saturday against Ferris State.
"We still have a chance to win two more football games. We're judged at the end of the year, and I'd like to be considered a good football team," Kearly said. "We will play hard. That's the goal. ... We'll play to win as we've played every game."
Stephen Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @steander.