In the wake of Michigan Tech’s split with then last-in-the-nation Alabama-Huntsville last weekend, social media has been buzzing with all kinds of theories, ideas, confusion, disappointment, and anger about the Huskies and their post-New Year’s swoon. Tech didn’t look particularly good in their Friday victory, and they just couldn’t score against one of the weakest defensive teams in the country on Saturday—and the Chargers, who if nothing else, are not quitters—took advantage. Them Dogs desperately need WCHA points to gain home ice in the playoffs, and the loss of three points to UAH has been hard to swallow for Husky Nation.
As a result of this bitter outcome, there have been hundreds, possibly thousands, of Tweets, comments on THG’s Discord site, the Chasing MacNaughton podcasts, and even on THG’s internal Slack site about what’s happened to Them Dogs in the month after their Great Lakes Invitational championship.
It’s enough to make an Old Dog’s head spin.
The ideas and even anger tend to fall into two different categories:
- There’s something wrong with the coaching staff.
- There’s something wrong with the players.
Coaching staff issues come in many shapes and sizes. The first and most common, is that Joe Shawhan can’t relate to the young adults of 2020. Many of these refer to the players as millennials, but really, almost any definition of when a “generation” starts and ends doesn’t match the current players to the term “millennial.” (And believe me, if you search the Web, you’ll find plenty of different definitions for the starting ending birth years of various generations.) It’s closer to say the Huskies’ players are of the “Generation Z” age, born and raised with the Internet, with mobile devices in both hands, and with social media as a defining aspect of their daily lives.
These comments come in various flavors, too numerous to list. Suffice it to say—at the risk of being hit with an “OK Boomer” barrage, most of these comments are coming from the generations that came before the millennials—Gen X and Boomers. The focus, though, is that the coaches just can’t get through to these guys for one reason or another.
Another set of explanations revolve around the strategies and tactics the coaches are driving the players toward. The Old Dog, being a Tech-nical sort of Husky, tends to favor these. My own notion is that you get what you coach, no matter what you say, and Shawhan and staff are teaching defense first. The Huskies aren’t giving up many goals, so there’s some evidence for this, too.
Certainly, this is the third straight season that has seen Them Dogs struggle in the second half of the season. While they managed to right the ship in 2017-2018 and win the WCHA playoffs with an impressive all-road-show triumph, three in a row is a pattern, and while some players have come and gone, the coaches remain a constant. Once again, for those who favor an instinctive cause-and-effect, this may have some validity.
Overall, much of that doesn’t really matter. It is relevant, though, that Joe Shawhan, whenever he discusses the team’s losses, tends to put the focus on players not playing the way the staff wants. If he’s ever said it was on him, plainly and bluntly (and Shawhan’s nothing if not blunt), I haven’t heard it or read it.
That takes us to the other side—it’s the players who are falling short. And, again, there are many varieties of these comments and ideas. This generation of players just doesn’t understand what it takes to win. (The Old Dog played with that one last week.) These guys can’t handle the pressure of being in the public spotlight. They have a hangover from GLI (Shawhan has certainly pushed that one). And, of course, there’s the “this is a young team” (another Shawhan explanation) and just wait until next season and we’ll see things turn around. Last but certainly not discountable, is that the flu bug has sapped the team more than we realize and, as a result, they just don’t have their mojo right now.
If you step back, you can see that many of these suggestions are just the complementary side of the first category, that the coaching staff can’t relate to the current Huskies. Instead of faulting the coaches, though, the blame falls on the players.
Finally, there’s a sort of third or even fourth category. The most common one is that it’s too early to panic (is it ever too early to panic for rabid fans???) and that things may yet turn around this year. And, naturally, there’s the “it’s a mix of everything”—players, coaches, timing, circumstances, the phases of the moon (not really-I haven’t seen that one yet), or whatever.
When the Old Dog thinks slowly and calmly, far removed from my second Two Hearted Ale Saturday after the loss to UAH, I’m forced to think about something that is attributed, in several different ways, to H. L. Mencken, writer, skeptic, and satirist who was widely thought to be one of the leading American thinkers of the first half of the twentieth century.
Mencken famously remarked that “for every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, obvious, and wrong.” While I’m tempted to say that’s the best answer for what ails the Huskies, it’s not a lot of fun to let it go at that. But I will just add that figuring out the relationship between cause-and-effect in sports is nothing more than semi-educated guessing.
So, since my head is spinning, and there might be any number of explanations, causes, technical or emotional answers, The Old Dog will throw down a challenge to THG readers.
For someone who has more time on their hands and more programming skills than the Old Dog, that someone should create a roulette simulation. Go through Twitter, go through the THG Discord site, listen to the podcasts, and make a list of all of the guesses that have been bandied around. Assign each “coaching staff” issue to a Black number, and each “player” issue to a Gold number. And finally, assign “none of the other ideas” to Zero, and “some combination” to Double Zero. Create a Black & Gold Roulette Wheel. Spin the wheel a few dozen times metaphorically and see what you get. We can call it “Keweenaw Roulette.”
Once you’ve done that, post a message here on THG, and I’ll reward you with a column explaining your results.
That might be the best answer yet.
Unless, of course, Tech goes on a tear and wins the remaining eight games on their schedule. (But we’ll still run a column on your results!)
Mike Anleitner is a 1972 Michigan Tech grad, and he was in the first class of what has become the Scientific & Technical Communications program. He also has an engineering degree from Wayne State and an MBA from Michigan-Ross. He spent forty seven years in various manufacturing and engineering positions, and is currently a semi-retired freelance engineer. He lives during the fall and winter with his wife of 49 years Carol–also a ’72 Tech grad–in Addison, TX, a Dallas suburb with more restaurants per capita than any other municipality in the US. During the summer, Mike and Carol reside in Elmira, MI and avoid the Texas heat.