HOUGHTON - The Michigan Tech hockey team has repeatedly proven it can play with the top teams in the country.
Now they have to prove they can beat them.
Back at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena for the first time in six weeks, the Huskies get a chance at a do-over tonight and Saturday after a pair of one-goal losses at No. 6 Ferris State two weeks ago.
Tech came back from Big Rapids, Mich. having outshot the Bulldogs by a 71-49 margin - and significantly "outchanced" Ferris Saturday - only to be sent home empty-handed and see themselves tied at No. 9 (of 10) in the WCHA standings.
The Huskies have now played in 13 straight games decided by one goal or less, owning a 3-5-5 record in that stretch.
"It is the good and the bad," Tech coach Mel Pearson said. "The good thing is that we have given ourselves a chance to win in every game and the bad is that we haven't found a way to win. We are playing just well enough to lose.
"I have never seen anything like it in college hockey."
There can be no moral victories at this point in the season.
With 12 conference games remaining, the Huskies have to make up a five-point gap to reach the No. 4 spot in the WCHA and the home playoff series that comes with it.
Certainly attainable. But besides Ferris this weekend, Tech also travels to Minnesota State (second in conference) and Bowling Green (third), making the hill just a little steeper.
"Any points you get now are critical," Pearson said. "The beauty of it is we are just five points away from home ice in the playoffs, but we also currently sit out of the playoffs entirely. That is how close it is, it's completely bunched in the middle."
At this point, Pearson believes that much of the Huskies' battle is mental.
Losing can become a habit, and while some of the previous defeats may fall in to the "tough luck" category, it is tough to play with the necessary confidence with just one win in the last 10 games.
"You can't change what happens in the past but you have something to say about what happens in the future," Pearson said. "That is the true test for our team, to be in the right frame of mind."
To put his team back on the right track, Pearson has focused the last two weeks of practice on offensive zone play.
For all the chances Tech created in the losses to Ferris, Pearson believes there could have been more still with the way the Huskies successfully transitioned the puck.
Two things stood out to him upon review.
One, they need more offensive production from their defenseman. The Huskies D corps has just two skaters (Shane Hanna and Brad Stebner) in the top-40 in conference points per game among all defenseman. In 26 games, they have gotten just 21 points from the blue line group.
It can be as simple of an adjustment as moving feet to prevent shots getting blocked for that number to increase.
After that, Pearson wants to see more commitment from the forwards crashing the net to earn those critical, ugly goals.
"We learned some things from that series," Pearson said. "They play a certain style and there are certain things you need to do to beat that style. One of them is how they pack it in defensively. So your offensive defensemen are going to be open quite a bit. So you need to get pucks through and get bodies to the net and get those 'greasy goals.'
"Our defensemen have been just OK at that."