Non-conference games can be looked at in a number of ways: irrelevant as far as conference playoff seeding, helpful in terms of NCAA tournament placement, important as far as momentum, and in the case of Michigan Tech vs. Northern Michigan, meaningful as a rivalry.
Fortunately for the Huskies, despite the loss of momentum and bragging rights, Saturday's 5-2 loss to the Wildcats has no negative impact on Tech's chance at home ice in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
For that reason, it would be easy to simply forget about Saturday and move on as if it never happened, channeling all efforts toward No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth this weekend.
That sounds good in theory, but the Huskies could learn a lot from the Wildcats in preparation for this weekend's series.
"(NMU) played a good road game," Tech coach Mel Pearson admitted after Saturday's loss.
I isolate that quote because it's something Tech has not done often this year. And it's something they'll have to do if they want to earn home ice.
The Huskies are 3-6 on the road this year, and they play eight of their final 12 regular season games on the road.
Forget that this weekend's trip involves facing the No. 1 team in the country. Tech has already been tied with UMD after the second period twice this year and has defeated the No. 2 team in the country twice as well. They've shown more than a couple flashes of brilliance.
But what will it take to consistently win in a tough environment against top-tier competition? Look what Northern did Saturday.
1. They took the crowd out of the game early. Tech packed the house with its biggest home crowd of the year, 3,708, but NMU scored two goals less than five minutes in, effectively turning it into a crowd of half that.
"They made an effort to have a big crowd here. They had a great crowd ... and to take those guys out of it early was critical," NMU coach Walt Kyle said after Saturday's game.
2. They stayed calm under the pressure of Tech's comeback. The Huskies scored twice during a two-minute span - against Northern's vaunted penalty kill. It woke up the crowd and gave Tech all the momentum. But the Wildcats didn't panic, and they weathered the storm.
"We're never too high or too low," said NMU senior forward Justin Florek, who scored two goals Saturday.
3. They capitalized on opportunities. Tech outshot Northern 30-24, but NMU made the most of their chances, pursued rebounds and crashed the net.
"We had some great chances in the third period that we either hit a post, or shot over the net - and that's the difference between winning and losing sometimes is taking advantage of chances, and they did," Pearson said.
Look back on the three items above. No. 1 boils down to energy, No. 2 boils down to mental toughness and No. 3 boils down to hard work - all things Tech can control. The Huskies cannot guarantee wins, but as Pearson has said repeatedly throughout the year, they can guarantee they'll be ready to play. And if Tech can establish a high-energy, level-headed, hard-working style as its road identity, home ice in the playoffs should be a realistic goal.
Stephen Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @steander.