It would be impossible to overstate the importance of this past weekend's hockey series for Michigan Tech.
Had the Huskies been swept by Bemidji State, which could have happened with as little as two fluky overtime plays, it would have been seven straight Tech losses going into the Thanksgiving break. Even glass-half-full coach Mel Pearson doesn't want to think about what that would have meant for his relatively young team.
"I don't think I can really say enough how important it really is. You don't even think about what the alternative was. We needed those wins," he said. "We didn't talk about that a lot as a team, how bad we needed it or where we were in the standings or anything like that. We talked about the preparation and the things we needed to do to be successful - but without a doubt it was a huge weekend."
A huge four points in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. A huge relief for fans (and players) who were thinking "Here we go again." A huge confidence boost for the team.
But, strangely enough, you know what it wasn't? A huge difference on the ice from the Nebraska-Omaha series.
"I don't think a lot other than the critical saves at key times, and our special teams played better," Pearson said. "I thought we competed against Omaha well. They found a way to win and we didn't, and in Bemidji we did. That's why I tried to explain we were playing well."
But that message resonates a lot clearer after consecutive wins than five straight losses.
"I was really happy and proud and pleased to see how our true character showed up and how we worked and stayed with it," Pearson said. "They're buying in and to get rewarded is huge, too. If you don't you start second-guessing things, but I think it was critical we found a way to win those games."
Overtime was the way, and maybe Tech fans should hope every game goes beyond 60 minutes. It wouldn't be good for blood pressure readings, but it'd sell tickets and likely result in wins if statistics are any indication.
Tech out-shot Bemidji 11-0 in 7:18 of overtime play over the weekend, and the Huskies are now 6-1-4 all-time under Pearson in the extra session. The only OT loss during his tenure came last season in the WCHA Final Five to Denver (which is now 9-1 overall and 7-1 in the WCHA this year, by the way).
That's pretty good composure for a Tech team with its top five point-getters as underclassmen. Freshman Alex Petan leads the Huskies with 10 points, followed by sophomore Blake Pietila (nine), freshman Jujhar Khaira (eight), sophomore David Johnstone (eight) and sophomore Tanner Kero (seven).
Petan, Khaira and Johnstone all had four-point weekends for Tech, and Petan and Pietila each now have four-game point streaks.
"They've (Petan and Pietila) played well from day one. They've found a consistency and a work ethic that has complemented their skill and there's some chemistry there too with 'JJ' (Khaira)," Pearson said. "I told our coaches before the weekend I thought JJ made huge strides in how much better he was. He's at a different level right now. We're playing sophomores and freshmen against other team's seniors, grizzled vets, and they're doing a great job."
But they have to keep doing a great job. That's the message now during yet another weekend without games. The sky wasn't falling after the Omaha series, but it's not all rainbows and butterflies after a mid-November sweep either (against a team picked 11th in the preseason rankings, no less).
The way the Huskies prepare during their current stretch with just two games in a 26-day span (only the BSU series between Nov. 4 and Nov. 29) will determine how well they play in the upcoming run of five games in nine days (Nov. 30 Dec. 8), a home series against Minnesota-Duluth, road trip to Northern Michigan and road series at Wisconsin.
Without classes this week, the Huskies are practicing Monday through Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, with just two days off for Thanksgiving.
"We're going to get some work done and stay sharp this week. Obviously we'll enjoy Thanksgiving, but once we come back on Saturday we want them to refocus and really get ready for a push," Pearson said. "We're going to push the guys hard and we've warned them and they understand that. They want to do well the last couple weeks before Christmas."
Emphatically snapping a five-game losing streak will certainly make the turkey go down easier on Thursday, but the Huskies just have to make sure the tryptophan-induced slumber doesn't carry over into a critical mid-season stretch.
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 with the #mtuhky hashtag.