Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the opposition. The Michigan Tech hockey and football teams, though they both could have played better, know they ran into hot opponents in their last two games, and fans need to acknowledge that before getting too depressed about a winless weekend. After all, the Detroit Tigers have provided plenty in that area...
Denver a tough trip
Losing three straight games and getting outscored 10-3 at Denver isn't good, but consider Monday's updated rankings, which have the Huskies' first two conference opponents, Minnesota and DU, at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively - in the country.
"Denver is a good team, a really good team," Tech coach Mel Pearson said. "Their strengths are defense and they're really good in net - they probably have the best goaltending trio in the country."
Tack on five goals each night by the Pioneer offense, and it's an almost unbeatable recipe. In fact, 4-0 DU has now scored five goals in four straight games for the first time since 1987-88.
According to Pearson, Tech did not suffer from any major defensive breakdowns at Denver. Rather, it was a perfect storm of little things: poor shot blocking - which was a strength against Minnesota - penalties, untimely miscues and inconsistent goaltending. All are fixable, according to Pearson.
Freshman goaltender Pheonix Copley earned the start both nights in Denver after stopping 59 of 65 shots (.908 save percentage) against Minnesota, but he let in several long-range shots, stopping only 34 of the 43 shots he faced (.791 save percentage) Friday and Saturday.
"He's a good goalie and he will be a good goalie but he's fighting some inconsistency right now," Pearson said. "You look at his record and he's 1-4 It definitely does muddy the waters."
While it's still too early to say who will start this weekend, Pearson noted that either Kevin Genoe or Jamie Phillips would likely at least start one of the games against Nebraska-Omaha.
On the offensive side, Tech doesn't see any need to panic after a weekend in which it scored just three goals - after averaging more than four goals per game before the DU series. The Huskies, after all, out-shot the Pioneers 66-50 - and out-attempted them 64-32 Saturday.
While poor shot selection sometimes crept in, Tech frankly suffered from poor "puck luck," as Pearson calls it. Denver's hot goaltending, of course, played a huge role.
"Some nights you're going to run into that where you're not going to score no matter what you do," Pearson said. "You don't get any momentum when you don't score."
Each night Tech only trailed 2-1, but that third goal each night Pearson said was critical and took the wind out of the Huskies' sails with the way Denver was playing defense. He felt the team never gave up and can still take some positives from the weekend.
"We played two of the three best, if not the best two teams in the WCHA and the country, and we have to realize and understand that," Pearson said. "It doesn't make them feel any better, but you have to make sure you realize there's a lot of hockey left to be played."
Playoffs out of picture
The Huskies don't have many games left to play on the gridiron, and playoffs are pretty much out of the question after suffering their third loss Saturday at Saginaw Valley (34-23), but, like the hockey Huskies, Tech simply ran into a rock-solid opponent for a second straight week.
"The last two offensive football teams are right at the top of the league in offense," Tech coach Tom Kearly said. "We did not play as well as we hoped to play, but with all the new faces, we're still in the top half of the league defensively, and we're still playing hard.
"We were in the ballgame until a few minutes to go, but it's a game we never had control of," Kearly said, noting that SVSU's 8-of-14 combined third- and fourth-down conversion rate seldom allowed Tech's defense to get off the field.
SVSU entered Saturday's game with the league's best passing offense and lived up to that reputation with 342 yards through the air.
Cardinals quarterback Jonathan Jennings completed 26 of 33 passes with three touchdowns- all of them to Jeff Janis, who caught 18 passes for 226 yards.
"Janis is a great receiver. They give him the football and put him in a lot of spots," Kearly said. "By and large we struggled to contain him."
This, a week after Tech faced the league's best rushing offense in Ferris State. The Bulldogs beat the Huskies 56-49 on the heels of 601 yards of offense.
Tech's offense has been putting up impressive stats, too, (432 yards per game) but mainly because it's had to play from behind recently and go to the air often.
However, that air attack will be put to the test after senior wide receiver Matt Curtin suffered a leg injury on the first play of the second half against SVSU. Kearly does not know when he'll be back, but losing a player with 47 catches, 838 yards and 12 touchdowns will certainly have an impact.
"He's had a great year and he's been a go-to guy," Kearly said, "but it's a position we're relatively deep in."
Senior tight end Bryan LaChapelle (42 catches, 526 yards, 3 TDs) had 10 catches Saturday, and he'll play a big role, but receivers Alex Elsenheimer (31 catches, 355 yards, 3 TD), Pat Carroll (19 catches, 236 yards, 1 TD) and Ethan Shaver (11 catches, 150 yards, 1 TD) - all seniors - will need to step up.
Being out of the playoff picture has the potential to impact team morale and effort with two games to play, but Tech can't afford that against 6-2 Hillsdale and now-5-3 Wayne State.
"I think it's up to us to make sure it does not have an impact. These are two games we have a chance to win, and I still think there's some things to play for," Kearly said, including a chance at finishing 7-3, and still a mathematical chance at winning the GLIAC North Division championship if everything goes perfectly.
Stephen Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/steander and interact throughout the week about Tech hockey and football with the #mtuhky and #mtufb hashtags.