Coaches, players, give rave reviews of playoff format

David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette Michigan Tech players and fans celebrate after beating Bowling Green 3-2 for the WCHA title Saturday at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

HOUGHTON — It took a moment after Michigan Tech Huskies assistant captain Shane Hanna’s double overtime game-winner, but once the 4,466 in attendance realized what had happened, the wave of emotion poured down from the crowd in a resounding cheer.

It was exactly the type of moment the WCHA was hoping for when they changed the way they were going to handle the playoff format coming into this season.

“You can’t say enough about the crowd,” said Huskies coach Mel Pearson. “My hat’s off to the WCHA for coming up with this format. You could see [Saturday] all through the game and even after the game, this experience for the student athlete was incredible.”

Bowling Green State Falcons coach Chris Bergeron echoed his opponent’s feelings about the atmosphere within the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

“I think it was great,” said Bergeron. “It was a championship. It was a celebration of the season and the championship. We were hoping as a league, and as coaches in the league, that it would be like this.”

For Tech fans, the experience really began last Sunday night as the Huskies were embroiled in a third and deciding game with the Minnesota State Mavericks. After four relatively lackluster crowds due to the fact that the WCHA playoffs coincided with Michigan Tech’s spring break, the fifth game’s crowd was far more impressive.

When the final buzzer sounded and the Huskies were guaranteed their chance to host the WCHA Final, many members of the crowd lined up to buy their tickets for Saturday’s game on the spot.

By Monday morning, the majority of what was available, ticket-wise, had dried up as fans gobbled up whatever they could get their hands on.

By Wednesday afternoon, one could not walk through campus or town without hearing about the excitement fans had for Saturday, or the disappointment they had at not being able to get tickets.

By Thursday, a hype video featuring the Mitch’s Misfits and Huskies playoff highlights had gone viral on Twitter.

On Friday, students hoping to guarantee themselves one of the Experience Tech tickets to the game were lining up and camping out at the Student Development Complex (SDC). With four hours to go to puck drop, the line snaked up on the second floor of the SDC all the way to the Wood Gym entrance.

When the players stepped onto the ice for warmups, they were amazed that the student section was already full.

“All the students were already in the building and that was awesome,” said Joel L’Esperance. “Usually, for a regular home game, there’s maybe 50 students in the stands. To see the whole student section full got you excited, got the blood pumping a little bit more than it would be in a normal warmup.”

Jake Jackson, who was among the starters, could not get over the volume within the arena as his name was called.

“You could hear them all night, really,” said Jackson. “The student section, and even the other fans section, was just going crazy all night.

“I had the opportunity to start [Saturday] and when I was skating out to the blue line, I was like, ‘Wow, there are some people here.’ You get really fired up.”

The Falcons felt the same amount of pride and excitement for the game.

“It was great,” said Falcons captain Sean Walker. “It’s great the way the format is set up. That’s huge to have your fan support coming into a championship game.”

As the Tech pep band made its way through the arena, the Misfits were in full form, swaying in time with the band. They then opened the game with their “Let’s Go Tech!” chant for the next two minutes of playing time.

Every time the Falcons’ faithful tried to cheer on their team, the Misfits worked hard to drown them out, until late in the third period when Bowling Green tied the game with two quick goals.

The overtimes brought a renewed passion from the Misfits and the crowd as a whole as they could sense the special event they were bearing witness to.

It seemed appropriate at the end of the game that the Misfits showed their emotion in the best way they could, by chanting in unison, “This is our house!” They then cheered and scrambled down to the ice when invited by Pearson and his staff to celebrate with the team.

For that moment, it certainly was their house.