It was a bad weekend in Bemidji. In fact, it’s not out of the question to call it a very bad weekend in the frozen expanse of northern Minnesota. Three weeks ago, the Old Dog said the Huskies faced an extremely bumpy road, and, I’m sorry to say, it’s been as unkind as I thought it might be.
Friday’s overtime loss in the outdoor game was a bit of a freak show, with bad ice, poor lighting, and extreme cold. Yes, both teams had to play in the same conditions, but those conditions favored the Beavers because the conditions, particularly the rough ice, took away Tech’s speed advantage, and Bemidji bottled them up in their own end for far too much of the game.
However, bad ice can’t explain what happened Saturday. It’s not completely fair to say that Them Dogs were flat, but there was something lacking. They needed an extra spark, a deep level of desire and a commitment that just wasn’t present. They rarely got into what Joe Shawhan has called “hard ice” down in BSU’s end, and once again the Beaver forechecking seemed to tilt the ice. Tech didn’t have very many quality scoring chances, and they only managed 18 shots—including just five in each of the second and third periods. And, once again, they gave up an empty net goal and the Beavers had earned a sweep.
Shawhan’s post-game interview was (as usual) very frank. As he said, “I guess it’s just not in the DNA to compete.” Whew. That’s a very tough statement, but everyone who watched that game could easily see the same thing. In listening to his comments to Dirk Hembroff it’s clear that things are eating Shawhan’s guts out.
The Old Dog was pondering these games, and thinking about what could be said that Shawhan hasn’t said. Have the Huskies gone from fragile to broken? What about the “better every day” philosophy that we’ve heard repeatedly during the past year and half?
One thing that occurred to me is that the “fabulous freshmen” have hit a wall in this season. Before the holidays, there’s no question that this year’s team got critical goals and play at both ends from their first year players. Now, the spigot seems to have run dry, and it may be that the grind of playing against more experienced teams is finally starting to wear them down.
As I watched the NFL conference championship overtime games on Sunday, I was still thinking about the Huskies. It did seem pretty clear that the Saints were victimized by a terrible non-call late in the game. The Rams took advantage of that (as winners are more likely to do) and are headed to the Super Bowl. But it was the New England-Kansas City game that really rang a bell somewhere in my old grey noggin.
Once again, in the way they’ve done more often than any pro football team in history, the Patriots prevailed against a great opponent. I was asking myself why when it hit me like a ton of bricks. Brady and Belichick simply refuse to lose. Of course, they do lose sometimes, but that never diminishes their absolute conviction that they are going to win every single time they play an important game.
While I know it’s fashionable, even expected, that fans anywhere outside of the Boston area hate both of these men, the level of success they’ve attained is beyond dispute. Tom Brady has tons of skill, a dedication to his own fitness and readiness to play each week that is amazing, and tons of self-confidence. According to NFL Network’s Mike Giardi, Brady walked into the Patriots’ locker room last week and shouted that he’s “the baddest motherf—– on the planet.”
That’s not going to make any of his haters into fans. But what do you think his teammates believe about him? When he goes out and throws five straight third-and-long strikes on the Patriots, including two on the last drive in regulation and three during the game-winning drive in overtime, you can bet the rest of the Patriots believe exactly what he said. He backed up his claim.
Everyone wants to win. Most teams prepare to win. But only champions have the will to win. Last year, at about the same point in the season, the Huskies looked like they were on their last legs. Then they managed to turn things around and, once the playoffs started, that team refused to lose.
Next weekend, Tech travels to Anchorage to face the Seawolves. The Seawolves are almost certainly the worst team in the NCAA Division I hockey, and are also coming off a dual road loss in Huntsville. This may be a great time to build some confidence and get back on track. Anything less than a sweep for the Huskies will be hard to swallow. But if they don’t get six points, it will be one more piece of evidence that this team will be lucky to finish at .500.
In the end, just wanting to win isn’t enough in the elite world of college hockey. You need to have a will to win. If the Huskies don’t bring that onto the ice this weekend, even Alaska-Anchorage could be a formidable opponent.