The Michigan Tech hockey team performed on a huge stage this past weekend, and the Huskies raised more than a few eyebrows with their series split against No. 1-ranked Minnesota in the only Western Collegiate Hockey Association match-up of the week.
Friday's 5-3 win over the Gophers created quite a splash in front of a regional television audience - a national one in the case of Alex Petan's SportsCenter top-10 goal - and the ripples are still spreading across the college hockey world.
Don't take my word for it. Here's a sampling of outsider opinions:
"It's out in the open now. No team can sleep on Michigan Tech." - USCHO.com column titled "Three things we learned: MTU can't be overlooked, made No. 1 Minnesota pay for mistakes."
"It may seem weird to say this, but Michigan Tech has the offensive firepower to punish Minnesota on those types of mistakes (turnovers) more than most teams. It's really amazing how quickly Michigan Tech has transitioned into a very fast team. Mel Pearson doesn't have all of his own guys at Tech yet, but the freshmen he's added like Alex Petan and C.J. Eick give a hint at the type of speed Tech is going to have going forward." - Western College Hockey Blog
"Losing conference games right off the bat hurts big time, but people are also going to have to drop their misconceptions about Michigan Tech because this team is legit throughout the lineup." - Gopher Puck Live blog
"It looks like the Tech resurrection has begun and, as it was a generation ago, there's no rest when you visit the Huskies." ESPN1500 Twin Cities blog
"Interesting to monitor will be just how good this Michigan Tech squad is, something we obviously won't know until we get deeper into the season, but they were very, very impressive." - The Daily Gopher
It's certainly important to keep in mind how early in the season it is, and Tech was soundly out-shot Saturday and it battled inconsistency against Lake Superior State, but the tide is turning.
I think Tech's reaction is just as noteworthy in this discussion.
"There's no moral victories for this team anymore," Tech coach Mel Pearson said after Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Gophers. "We know we can play with anybody on any given night. (Minnesota) is a good team. They're a heck of a hockey team. They're going to win a lot of hockey games, and for us to hang with them like we did it shows that we're a pretty good hockey team. We're going to win a lot of games this year."
As I quoted in my recap from Saturday's loss, Tech defenseman and captain Carl Nielsen also clearly expressed his perspective: "Most people out there are probably going to say Tech's either lucky or happy to get a split with Minnesota, but you ask anyone on our staff or our locker room and that's not the case. We were with them the whole game in our opinions, and we came up short in our minds. There's no excuses. The best thing we can do here is learn from it, not dwell on it and take a step in the right direction."
Now for my take: The Tech hockey turnaround has begun. Pearson earned WCHA Coach of the Year honors for a reason last year.
His freshmen forwards have helped the Huskies score 17 goals in just four games. Goaltending was the biggest question mark coming into the year, andfreshman Pheonix Copley at least proved himself capable on a big stage, with an experienced senior and an NHL draft pick waiting in the wings.
The defense, which was projected to be the strength of the team coming in, has actually been its biggest weakness. But with all three captains on the blue line, that should improve - and it needs to improve.
The foundation for success is in place, but, despite all the initial glowing reviews, a foundation is nothing if it's not built on. The Huskies are only as good as their next game. Their youth poses inconsistency concerns, and even last year during year one under Pearson the team struggled with opponents it should beat.
Tech is 4-2-2 against top-three-ranked teams since the start of last year, but it's also 10-11-1 against unranked teams in that span. The next step is to carry the same effort into the non-marquee games as the ones that draw national attention.
Time will obviously tell just how far the Huskies go, but opinions are nearly unanimous that the team is headed in the right direction.
Agree? Disagree? Help continue the discussion on Twitter by using the #mtuhky hashtag, just as I do throughout the week, along with players, analysts and other fans.
Stephen Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/steander.