To be the best, one has to beat the best. I used that intro for my preview of the Michigan Tech hockey series against Minnesota Duluth, but the saying is true once again as the Huskies continue a brutal schedule stretch.
Of course the Western Collegiate Hockey Association is always challenging from top to bottom, but after facing the defending national champs - who are now ranked No. 1 after sweeping Tech - Tech now heads on the road to face the WCHA's first-place team and the No. 2 team in the country: Minnesota.
"It's a good measuring stick for our program and where we're at and we still need some work to get up to the speed of a program like Duluth, but I think the gap has narrowed from where it was last year," Tech coach Mel Pearson said after Saturday night's 5-3 loss to UMD. "But you have to win ... to validate that, and until we do that, we'll be hoping and wishing, and we want to make sure we can ... get the job done."
Pearson and his players all insist the team is on the brink of being a good hockey team, and recent performance proves that, but what you're seeing right now is a classic example of programs at different stages of evolution.
UMD won it all last year and Minnesota has a storied program known for long-term success. Tech, on the other hand, has been through the lowest of lows during the past few decades, and it would be impossible to expect that to turn around immediately.
At the beginning of the year, it actually seemed like they may have done just that, flipping on the success switch and leaving losing in the past where it belongs.
But, now reality is setting in. It's by no means a gloom-and-doom reality that implies Tech cannot win, but it illustrates the growing pains that come with the process of changing a losing culture.
"It's never fun to lose, and it's even worse getting swept," Pearson said after Saturday's game. "The kids played hard, they play a good game and it's not like we had a total breakdown in one area that we can fix, it's just an individual thing here ... or a bounce there. That's the frustrating part. We're doing a lot of good things."
Tech took the lead twice and scored two power play goals Saturday against UMD, Josh Robinson still has a .920 save percentage this season and six Huskies have at least 10 points this year.
Senior captain Brett Olson, who is leading the way a captain should with a team-high 17 points, knows Tech is on the verge of success after hanging with UMD for 120 minutes this past weekend.
"That's one thing that we're very happy about right now - it stinks to lose this was a very hard-fought battle with both teams, it could have gone either way," he said after Saturday's game. "We're a far long way from last year where we were, so things are looking up. It's only going up from here for us, so it's good."
Other coaches have certainly recognized the difference in Tech this year, including UMD coach Scott Sandelin, who said Saturday, "They're a very, very good hockey team and I think Mel's done a great job with the team and you can see that in how they play."
Denver's George Gwozdecky and Wisconsin's Mike Eaves, who have frankly been used to easy wins against Tech in the past, shared similar sentiments earlier this year after the Huskies took seven of eight possible points against the Pioneers and Badgers earlier this year.
While Tech has obviously opened eyes around the country, losing five of the last seven games has people questioning whether the Huskies can sustain success.
A lot of those questions should be answered this weekend against the red-hot Golden Gophers.
Stephen Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steander.