Tech hopes experience helps this time around

Brent Baltus (28) positions himself in front of the net during Tech’s 2-0 win over Northern on Saturday. The victory earned the Huskies a spot in the NCAA tournament. (David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — Maybe the Huskies need a sense of urgency. Maybe the casualty of regular season play is too monotonous, and they prefer the intense stress of playoff hockey.

Maybe they just needed the right motivation to reach their full potential.

“I think everyone understands that if we don’t bring it, then we are done,” Jake Lucchini said. “We just got to keep that mentality. It is one game and you’re done, so I think that is kind of driving us right now.”

Whatever the case may be, Michigan Tech is at the top of its game, and just in time.

After battling through an up and down season that ended on the upmost of ups (a WCHA Championship) the Huskies return to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. This time, they take on No. 1 seeded Notre Dame, and this time they are looking for a totally different first-round appearance.

Last year Denver shot out to a 4-0 lead after the first period, and the game was over before it even started. The veteran Huskies remember the impossibility of trying to come back in that situation, and the finality of defeat when it was over. They don’t want the same experience this season.

“Last year we were here and it didn’t go the way we wanted it to go, but I think we just have a different mindset going into this one,” Lucchini said. “Last year we were a 2 seed in the WCHA playoffs, so we had everything at home. But this year it has been different. We’ve had to go to Bemidji, go to Minnesota State and got to Northern, and we had to take everything that we got. We have a different mindset. We have to battle.”

This year Lucchini thinks his squad has faced more adversity and is stronger for it. Plus, the Huskies understand the big stage, a stage that was a little too big last season.

“Last year we didn’t have the start we wanted and then we kind of got behind the eight-ball right away after the first period,” Brent Baltus said. “I think we need to focus on our start.

This is a new group, new situation, so I think it is just a matter of us being ready when the puck drops. We had a good second and third, but once you get behind, a good team will shut things down, and it is hard to get back into the game.”

Last season’s loss and this season’s playoff run have also taught the Huskies how to deal with hype. Plus, they have an identity they can get behind: underdogs.

“I think experience has helped us certainly in our league playoffs, because we have guys who had been there,” coach Joe Shawhan said. “I don’t think we felt the hype of the Northern series that was external. First of all, it wasn’t in our city so we were kind of encapsulated from it, our guys were on break. I don’t think we felt that hype. We went into that game pretty calm and relaxed, ready to play in that game. It probably helps being the underdog as well. But Notre Dame, again, is another quality opponent. They were in the final four last year, and they return a lot of their team.”

It won’t be easy.

The Huskies are the No. 15 team in a 16-team tournament, while Notre Dame is the second-best squad.

So underdog is an understatement. But battling adversity seems to be their new thing. And the Huskies like their chances.