January 31, 2008
Weathering Adversity Nothing New for Michigan Tech

By Jess Myers

When harsh winter weather forced Michigan Tech to cancel classes on Wednesday, for what is believed to be only the third time in school history, there was concern that the hockey team would have trouble getting to Alaska Anchorage for this weekend's series. Thankfully, by the time the cancellation order came down, the Huskies were long gone.

WCHA Notebook

Goaltender Michael-Lee Teslak and senior forward Peter Rouleau (14), pictured in a game last season, played a big role in last weekend's win and tie against Colorado College.

National TV Schedule

Seeing the freezing rain, and hearing reports of snow, wind, plunging temperatures and dangerous wind chills that were to come, Huskies coach Jamie Russell loaded up his team late Tuesday night, and shortly after Midnight in the opening minutes of Wednesday morning, their bus was headed through the dark and cold toward the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport and a flight to the Last Frontier.

If, like many of their conference rivals, the Huskies had been raided by the NHL in recent years and their roster was dominated by freshmen and sophomores, Russell admits he might have been concerned about changing plans on the fly. But on this veteran-laden team, where most players are spending their third or fourth winter in Houghton, the quick change due to the weather, and packing to leave for a Friday road game on Tuesday night, was just more of the same.

"On a younger team, I'd be more concerned about it," Russell said by phone from MSP while the Huskies waited to board their Anchorage-bound plane. "But these are a lot of the same guys who swept Minnesota in Minneapolis two years ago when we showed up at the rink 20 minutes before warm-ups due to snow. So for many of these players it's like, 'been there, done that.'"

Of course, being on the road is nothing new for these Huskies either. Between Dec. 26 and Jan. 13, they spent a total of three days in Houghton, and their win and tie versus league-leading Colorado College last weekend at MacInnes Student Ice Arena was their first WCHA series at home since a Nov. 9-10 affair with St. Cloud State. For Russell, the three-point weekend versus the Tigers was a nice start on what he hopes is a push for home ice in the final six weekends of the season, but even more encouraging was the quintet of goals his team scored in Saturday's 5-2 win – a rare offensive breakout for a defense-first team.

Earlier in the season, in a home-and-home series with Northern Michigan, the Huskies out-shot their rivals 65-24 for the weekend, but managed just one goal, tying 1-1 and losing 2-0. By contrast, leadership by upperclassmen was the key in taking three points from the Tigers, as the team's three top scorers – Peter Rouleau, Tyler Shelast and Jimmy Kerr (all of them seniors) – scored in the series.

"They really stir the drink for our offense," said Russell, who got some good news in goal last weekend too. After missing more than a month due to injury, top goaltender Michael-Lee Teslak made his return to the Huskies crease and backstopped the 2-2 tie on Friday. Not that Rob Nolan truly struggled as Tech's goaltender of record in Teslak's absence. Nolan had gone 3-4-0 in seven consecutive starts, which included a sweep at Mercyhurst, a 29-save win over defending national champ Michigan State, and 45 saves in the Huskies 1-0 two-overtime loss to Michigan (then ranked no. 1 in the nation) in the Great Lakes Invitational title game. Russell notes that the net took a beating that night, as his team hit "two pipes and two crossbars" at Joe Louis Arena.

All of those trials, Husky fans hope, are giving the team the experience they need to secure a top-five finish in the WCHA, which would mean home playoff games in Houghton for the first time in more than a decade. The coach knows that unlike some other league rivals, he has the luxury of letting upperclassmen lead the way down the stretch.

"We have a pretty good senior class, and a big junior class, so there are a lot of guys who have been through the wars in the WCHA," Russell said. And after making their first-ever appearance at the Xcel Energy Center last season, a sought-after return trip to the WCHA Final Five would give those Tech upperclassmen a familiar feeling:

Been there, done that.


Bye-Week Blues: It's another bye weekend for those other Huskies – the St. Cloud State variety. A win and a tie versus Minnesota on Jan. 11-12 was followed by a weekend off. Then last weekend's pair of losses versus Minnesota State is being followed by another bye week, which some would see as a little too much idle time in the worst part of a Minnesota winter.

For Huskies coach Bob Motzko, it's not the two free weekends that have him concerned, it's one particularly brief stretch last Friday that's raised the most red flags.

"Versus the bye weeks or anything else, I just wish we'd played better for eight minutes," Motzko said, referring to his team's 3-0 lead that became a 5-3 loss in the final eight minutes of their game at Minnesota State last Friday. "We play better for eight minutes, you and I aren't talking right now."

Perhaps of biggest concern to Motzko and the noisy army of Huskies fans out there is the fact that after letting several leads slip away in the third period early this season, the trend seemed to have reserved itself in the month leading up to the Minnesota State series. Tied 1-1 with Harvard at the Ohio Hockey Classic on Dec. 30, the Huskies won 4-1 via a trio of late goals. A week later they trailed North Dakota 2-0 at home in the third before scoring the final three goals to win. And trailing Minnesota 4-1 with 21 minutes left in regulation, the Huskies rallied for a 4-4 tie.

Motzko said the collapse in Mankato was a result of "everyone running around trying to do someone else's job," and there were lingering effects the next night in St. Cloud, when the Minnesota State again rallied, turning a 2-0 Huskies lead into a 5-3 Mavericks win.

"I'm sure it had an effect on what we did on Saturday, because we weren't very good," Motzko said.

So they Huskies sit for another weekend, pondering what happened, what lies ahead and where they fit in the increasingly muddled middle of the WCHA pack. One benefit of the idle hours is a chance to get healthy, after two of St. Cloud State's biggest offensive impact players – Ryan Lasch and Nate Dey – were forced to leave last weekend's games due to injury. Motzko said Lasch will be back next weekend when the Huskies travel to Colorado College. For Dey the situation is less clear, after he had knee surgery this week, but the coach said there are hopes for a quick recovery.

Still, even with all of this time to crunch numbers, analyze tape and concentrate on self-discovery, the Huskies' return to late-game trouble is a puzzlement to the coach.

"It'd be an easy out to blame youth, but that's not it," Motzko said. "What's been hard with our team is that we're all over the map, and it's harder to put your finger on things."

It sounds like a little more time off might be beneficial for a team that wants to be at home, as opposed to all over the map, come playoff time.

Great Weekend Getaway
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Denver at Minnesota State
There's plenty to prove on both benches this weekend when Denver visits Minnesota State for a pair at the Alltel Center. The Pioneers want to show that the recent two-game losing streak was nothing that a weekend's worth of rest can't cure. The Mavericks are out to build on last weekend's sweep of St. Cloud State and re-insert themselves into the race for the upper half of the WCHA standings.

While You're There: Just a short drive west of Mankato is the charming riverside town of New Ulm, Minn. Down the bluff from the imposing statue of Herman the German sits August Schell Brewing Company, where they've been making liquid magic (including regional favorite Grain Belt Premium) for nearly 150 years. This weekend is the brewery's annual Bock Fest which features fun ways for all ages to chase away the winter blahs.

Stick Salute

Stop us if you've heard this story line before, but there's a guy named Johnson helping Wisconsin win some games. Admirably filling the big, big skates of his grandfather Badger Bob, and his father Mark, was rookie forward Patrick Johnson, who had a goal and an assist in Bucky's 2-2 tie with Minnesota last Saturday, and was named WCHA Rookie of the Week.

Bench Minor

With the building filled to capacity on a cold, snowy winter night, the history, tradition, band and fans at Michigan Tech's MacInnes Student Ice Arena can combine to make for a magical college hockey atmosphere. So why were there nearly 2,000 unsold tickets last Friday when the top team in the WCHA came to visit?


• It's more than just a big non-conference series, and a possible NCAA playoff preview, when eastern power Clarkson visits Colorado College this weekend. The series will also serve as the background for a celebration of the 70th Anniversary of Tigers hockey. The program famously got its start as an after-dinner entertainment option for guests at the posh Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, and the Tigers' original home, Broadmoor World Arena, was the site of the Frozen Four for the tournament's first decade.

• Letting leads slip away is a problem in St. Cloud, and just down I-94 in Minneapolis as well. Last Saturday's 2-2 tie at Wisconsin was Minnesota's fifth tie of the season, and in all five they have led the game only to see their opponent knot the score. The Gophers have been out-scored by WCHA foes to the tune of 26-7 in the third period this season, but have out-shot their opponents in the final stanza. Go figure.

• With two wins at UMass Lowell last weekend, Minnesota Duluth won both ends of a road series for the first time in their last 26 tries. Their last sweep while wearing the dark sweaters came at Michigan Tech in October of 2004 when the Bulldogs were (briefly) ranked No. 1 in the nation.

• If you have tickets for this weekend's series between North Dakota and Minnesota in Minneapolis, consider yourself fortunate. The last 26 times the Fighting Sioux have visited Mariucci Arena have been sellouts. The current seven-game winning streak by the Sioux, which has moved them into second place in the WCHA, is the longest since Dave Hakstol took over the head coaching reins in 2004.

• Fans in Alaska hoping to see a shutout should get to Sullivan Arena this weekend for the series with Michigan Tech. No promises, but the numbers say the odds are good, as Alaska Anchorage has recorded three shutout wins over the Huskies since joining the WCHA in 1993, which is the most versus any conference opponent.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. Jess Myers can be reached at jess@insidecollegehockey.com.