You just never know when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will present itself, and Friday was certainly that for me.
Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings legend, current Tampa Bay Lightning GM and my favorite athlete ever, visited Michigan Tech to watch the Huskies take on Nebraska-Omaha. No way was I going to pass up the opportunity to use my press credentials to meet and interview him. I even maintained my professionalism - despite the numerous texts from friends seeking autographs (bear with me, this gets back to Tech hockey in a moment).
To realize how big of a moment that was for me, "Stevie Y" was captain of the Red Wings for the first 18 years of my life, and, unlike my other childhood sports hero (hint: first name Brett), he ended his career with the team he became a legend with.
I only talked to him for about a minute at second intermission - discovering his first trip to Houghton was to scout college free agents - and after the game asked him to pose for a now-widely-circulated photo with a "Mitch's Misfits" shirt. And I'm relieved to find out he is as nice and down to earth as I could have hoped, cordially agreeing to both the interview and photo by some young journalist who he likely (and rightly) assumed was a thinly disguised fan. It was a night I'll never forget.
Oh yeah, and Friday's 3-3 Huskies vs. Mavericks tie was pretty good, too.
But then there was Saturday's series finale with no Yzerman and no Tech goals.
Every team that loses a big game feels disappointed, and that was certainly true for the Huskies. But there was something noticeably different about postgame reaction to the Huskies' 4-0 Winter Carnival loss to Nebraska-Omaha.
Last season, Tech faced disappointment almost all season, but that resulted in more of a "here we go again"-type disappointment.
In the first half of this season, Tech faced several disappointing losses, but that resulted in more of a "Oh well, there's bound to be a few bumps in the road while turning around a program"-type disappointment.
Saturday was neither of those.
Certainly the magnitude of the series (tied for fifth in the standings), the huge home crowd (3,488 people), the Winter Carnival festivities and the shutout nature of the loss would have amplified the disappointment level, but that still doesn't fully explain the downright despair visible in Brett Olson's body language during his postgame interview.
Olson isn't one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, and his level-headed leadership makes him the consummate team captain. He leads by example off the ice and on it (team-leading 27 points). He's articulate and confident in each of his many postgame interviews. But something was different Saturday.
He still stepped in front of the mics and cameras. He still handled himself professionally. But, well, see for yourself:
"It's obviously very disappointing to be in the position that we're in. I'm trying to look for positives right now, but it's hard to come up with positives."
"Tonight we let ourselves down."
"I can't tell you why the puck didn't go in the net tonight, but (UNO goaltender Ryan Massa) played well I guess and we didn't play well enough."
"We didn't come out and play like we should have - we know that in the locker room."
"We didn't want to finish like that in Winter Carnival - the biggest thing is disappointing right now."
And words couldn't even fully express the dejection so clearly visible in his body language.
In other words, this was a "We genuinely thought we'd get four WCHA points out of this weekend, and we're too good of a team to end with that kind of result"-type disappointment.
It wasn't overconfidence. It wasn't an unrealistic assessment of ability. It wasn't a far-fetched hope. It was a feeling of actually belonging among those in the battle for home ice in the playoffs. Apparently not many prognosticators would have thought that when they picked UNO to finish fourth in the WCHA standings and Tech 12th in the preseason poll.
But this column is not about making you as dejected today as Olson was Saturday. Rather, it's to remind you that despite Saturday's disappointment, first, Tech is still right in the thick of things for home ice, and second, Tech has already made remarkable progress this season - as evidenced by the kind of disappointment shown Saturday.
The Huskies are seventh in the WCHA standings, just a point behind this weekend's foe, North Dakota, and two behind UNO and Colorado College. Of course road series in Grand Forks and Colorado Springs don't make for an easy path to home ice, but not all is lost.
In fact, consider that Tech is mathematically eliminated from any chance of finishing last (where it's finished three years in a row), and has less than a 3 percent chance of finishing in the bottom three (according to playoffstatus.com/wchahockey/wchastandings.html).
The Huskies know what they have to do, and it starts with forgetting about last weekend, then:
"We have to go back to work. There's a lot of hockey to be played. I really like our team. ... There's a lot of good things going on in that locker room, and I believe in them. We're just going to have to learn from this series," Tech coach Mel Pearson said after Saturday's game. "It was a good test for us. You find out how you have to play, especially down the stretch, and I think that will really help us moving forward, playing a team like UNO.
"We can play with teams like this, and (our players) should get some confidence out of this," he said.
...or out of the fact that they're even still fighting to do something they've only done once in my lifetime: earn home ice in the WCHA playoffs for the first time since 1993.
Stephen Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/steander.