ST. PAUL, Minn. The Michigan Tech hockey turnaround is just beginning.
Even with the sting of Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss to Denver in the WCHA Final Five still fresh in the minds of Tech's players and coaches, the Huskies recognize what this season's success means for the program, the community, the college hockey world and the future.
Tech improved by 20 points in the WCHA standings, while the next biggest league point improvement was Minnesota at nine points better than last year. The Huskies quadrupled their win total from the previous season. They were picked to finish 12th dead last in the league standings, and they finished eighth.
Throughout the season, Tech coach Mel Pearson frequently summed up the feeling as "pleased but not satisfied."
"There's a lot of good things going on considering where the team came from but let's face it, we finished eighth place we have a lot of work to do still," said Pearson, who earned WCHA Coach of the Year honors for guiding the turnaround.
"We have to raise the bar higher. We have to expect to get here every year and expect to do well every year not just get here and not just challenge for home ice," he added.
Pearson has often deflected credit for the turnaround to his six seniors, who bought into Pearson's philosophy, each had their best seasons as a Husky and led by example for Tech's younger players.
"We're so happy for our seniors to get this experience," assistant coach Damon Whitten said. "What a tremendous job those seniors did for us down the stretch and all season long but now the bar has been raised for the program. That's the good thing moving forward. We got a little taste of it and we can come back next year hungrier for more."
The seniors played a major role for Tech, but seven of the top 10 point-getters and the entire defense will be returning next season, along with several top-tier recruits committed for next season.
"Any time you have success, it raises the bar for the following year," Tech athletic director Suzanne Sanregret said. "I know with the work ethic of the coaches and the recruiting, there will be more good things to come. It is a turnaround and I believe in what they're doing and the players believe in what they're doing, so I see a lot of good things on the horizon."
So does the community the Houghton community, the Michigan Tech community and the college hockey community.
There were hundreds of Tech alumni and fans at the Xcel Energy Center Thursday, along with more than 25 members of the Michigan Tech pep band and more than 20 Mitch's Misfits.
"Michigan Tech has such proud fans and it's always nice to have that support," senior Jordan Baker said. "It means so much to us as players. The fans have been amazing throughout my entire career."
It's hard to know whether it was more of a love for the underdog, a hatred for Denver (and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference) or a genuine excitement for Tech's turnaround, but whatever it was, Tech had what amounted to a home crowd Thursday against the Pioneers. Fans booed Denver during introductions and erupted after each of Tech's two goals.
"They're the greatest fans in the WCHA, and it was actually kind of neat to see the other fans that were around the Sioux fans, St. Cloud, Minnesota they were rooting for us tonight at the Final Five," said Tech captain Brett Olson, whose hockey future beyond Tech is yet to be determined.
Nobody knows what will happen next year for Tech hockey next year either, but notice has been served that long gone are the days of being bottom feeders.
"We're obviously really disappointed that we lost when we did and how we did, but our team has so much potential," said assistant captain and junior defenseman Steven Seigo. "The season is just indescribable the turnaround we've had. We're just going to carry that into next year and we're going to make some more noise next year."