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Putting home ice in perspective/Inside the Huskies

Inside the Huskies

January 17, 2012
By Stephen Anderson - DMG Sports Writer (sanderson@mininggazette.com) , The Daily Mining Gazette

If the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs started today, Michigan Tech would be playing North Dakota. Sound familiar? The Huskies' season has ended at UND three of the last four years, but this year would be a little different: the best-of-three series would be played in Houghton.

That's right, the same team that outscored Tech 28-4 in the final four games of the 2010-11 season would mathematically be the underdog just one year later.

Quite a turnaround indeed.

Granted it's only mid-January and several difficult road series lie ahead - including a trip to Grand Forks, N.D. - but here's a few more stats to put this year's success in perspective.

Tech's WCHA record in the previous three years combined was 8-67-9; this year it's 8-7-1. That's right, same number of wins, 60 fewer losses. During the last three years, in which the Huskies have finished last in the WCHA, they have averaged 22 points out of position for home ice.

Even in light of those staggering statistics, Tech set home ice in the playoffs as one of its goals from day one under coach Mel Pearson's administration.

At the time, it sounded about as likely to happen as the Detroit Lions making the playoffs.

Wait - what's going on here?!

It's already been quite a year of surprises in sports, but the Huskies hockey team hopes the success story is only half-written coming off an impressive sweep of Alaska Anchorage.

"It's a step forward. We talked about taking advantage of our home games and it's easier said than done," Pearson said after Saturday's 6-4 win. "The biggest thing is moving the team forward, getting the points, putting ourselves in position for home ice in the playoffs - and that's one of the team goals. It was a very important weekend for us and we did the things we needed to do."

Like score goals.

With 12 goals over the weekend, Tech broke out of its scoring drought in emphatic fashion, with all four lines contributing and freshmen through seniors finding the back of the net.

On Friday, all three freshmen forwards scored goals - Tanner Kero and Blake Pietila each notching their seventh of the season. On Saturday, it was mostly the seniors' turn. Bryce Reddick scored his first two of the season and Jordan Baker tallied his fifth, sixth and seventh.

"All the seniors want to make this our best year here," Reddick said. "We're very confident now. ... At the beginning of the year, we were beating the top teams in the country, and that's what we're going to continue to do."

Prior to Saturday, Baker had been held to just one goal in his last 10 games. The coaching staff recently challenged him, and Tech's elder statesman (he turns 24 on March 28) stepped up.

"We challenged Jordan (Saturday) morning. We talked to Jordan pretty sternly about some things and he responded," Pearson said. "We're only going to go as far as our seniors take us and Jordan is a big part of that. ... I thought he played hard all night and got rewarded with the goals."

Tech will have to play hard as a whole team Saturday if it wants to avenge a disappointing 4-1 Dec. 16 loss to rival Northern Michigan.

"That was the start of our not scoring and there were a lot of reasons for that, but I think we found it again this weekend," Pearson said. "We're going to have to play with that home-ice presence. We didn't play very well at Northern - I expect us to play much better and be ready for this game."

Being a non-conference game, it won't have much impact within the WCHA standings, but it would certainly help to have momentum heading into six straight WCHA series without a break to close out the regular season.

Tech has 17 points in the WCHA standings right now, and last year, Colorado College hosted a playoff series with 28 points. In other words, if the Huskies play .500 hockey in the conference the rest of the way, they'll have a good chance of earning home ice.

A far cry from a year ago, isn't it?

Stephen Anderson can be reached at sanderson@mininggazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/steander.

 
 

 

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