HOUGHTON - Three weeks ago, the Michigan Tech hockey team entered the weekend against Alaska (Fairbanks) in control of their own destiny to gain playoff home ice for the first time since 1993.
They were swept. Emphatically.
A more desperate Nanooks squad dominated every facet in the Friday game and kept rolling Saturday to put up 14 goals on a shell-shocked Husky squad.
After the Friday contest, Tech coach Mel Pearson said his team got "fat and happy" from four straight wins entering the weekend.
"This game was decided before the puck was dropped, unfortunately," Pearson said at the time.
Thanks to a bounce-back sweep against Northern Michigan, however, the Huskies get a do-over.
Once again Tech sits in a tie for third place. Once again, the Huskies control their own destiny for home ice.
One win against Minnesota State this weekend in Mankato will likely be enough to secure that vaunted goal.
Dealing with success is the next step for Pearson's program. It is time to see if lessons have been learned.
"I think we are more prepared for an opponent like this, where you know you are going to have to step the level of your game up and have some urgency," senior captain Brad Stebner said in a release. "We have something to play for as opposed to a weekend where a team is a little bit weaker and you don't have as much to play for. Everybody is excited, it's a lot more fun, a better atmosphere."
Even if Tech prepares better, however, the Mavericks present the best the WCHA has to offer at this moment.
Mankato sits tied with Ferris State with 38 points - 10 more than Alaska and Tech - atop the WCHA standings. As Tech plays for home ice, MSU is competing for the MacNaughton Cup.
The Mavericks have enjoyed nothing but success at home this season, posting a 13-1 record at the Verizon Wireless Center. They also lead the conference in goals scored and goals allowed.
With a Minnesota State sweep and three points earned from Bowling Green over reeling Bemidji State, the Huskies would fall out of the top four in the conference standings.
"You want to be playing the best teams right now heading into the playoffs, there is not point playing a team that you can beat up on," sophomore forward C.J. Eick said. "It doesn't get you ready for anything."
"They have the MacNaughton Cup on the line," Stebner added. "Just the atmosphere and the intensity and how close it is, it is going to be a lot of fun. Going to be a great weekend."
The recipe for beating MSU is actually relatively simple:?Stay out of the penalty box.
The Mavericks convert on 26 percent of their power plays, more than seven percent better than Northern Michigan, the No. 2 team. For the season, MSU has a plus-23 goal differential on special teams.
Tech currently sits at minus-two.
"They have as good a power play as any team in college hockey," Tech assistant coach Bill Muckalt said.
"We have to stay disciplined."