HANCOCK - The Finlandia men's hockey team could hardly have been given a more difficult opening set of games.
Last Friday, the Lions opened their season at reigning Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champs River Falls, the No. 14 Division III team in the nation, and got stomped 8-1.
This Friday and Saturday, FU will host its first home games of the season with a Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association series against the No. 7 team in the country, Milwaukee School of Engineering. For a team searching for a hot start to build on the momentum created at the end of last season, the schedule is not doing the Lions many favors.
Finlandia head coach John McCabe does not see it that way, however. Rather, he is thankful for the tough tests to open the season as he wants his team exposed to the best hockey they will see right away.
"I like it and we as a group like the challenge," McCabe said. "You have to beat the best to be the best. And we want to see where that bar is. We need to show that we can compete with these teams on any given night. Now the puck management and effort have to match that desire. But I think we have the players to do it."
Puck management and inconsistent effort were the major culprits in the Lions shellacking against River Falls.
The WIAC favorites netted two goals in the opening six minutes, and put 47 shots on the Lions net over the course of the game.
McCabe believes there were not any issues with the initial defensive sequence, but the Lions struggled to clear the puck in front of the net and successfully transition out of their own zone.
"We gave them a lot of second and third opportunities," McCabe said. "Just puck management problems. We didn't put the puck in the right places and when you turn it over they turn into your net just as quick."
The necessary effort in the hard areas on the ice also waned at times according to McCabe.
"You have to win battles and do all the little things right to come out a winner against teams of that quality," McCabe said. "We learned a lot from last week on what not to do. It was good for our team in terms of us learning how hard you have to compete to be on level with top-10 teams. Every minute. Not 50 minutes, it is a complete game effort.
"That is what we are going to have to do against MSOE. They are very disciplined with very good players."
Special teams in particular will be a point of emphasis against Milwaukee.
The Lions went 0-for-6 on the power play at River Falls and allowed a goal on their one penalty kill.
So practice this week has been spent in many man-advantage and disadvantage situations.
"That is something that we have worked on all week and we switched some personnel around," McCabe said. "If you get six power plays you need to score. You really need to be 20 percent or better to win hockey games on a consistent basis. That is a matter of winning battles in dirty areas for us but you look at video and they are easily correctable. We feel good that we have addressed several of those areas."
The battle in net remains undecided.
Sophomore Jordan Marr earned the start, but was pulled after four goals for junior transfer Troy Chandler.
McCabe said they will make a decision Friday morning.
"I don't fault either of them for any of those goals last weekend," McCabe said. "So we will be looking at what each of them does in practice this week."
The women's team will open its season Friday, heading to Wisconsin-Stevens Point for a two-game series.