The Michigan Tech hockey team shocked the world last weekend, but, know who wasn't shocked? The Michigan Tech hockey team.
Players and coaches alike don't hesitate to call a three-point weekend at No. 1-ranked Minnesota Duluth a "defining moment" for the program - as they rightly should - but they also agree these kind of results should be typical.
"It's something we want to get used to. It proves that if we work together toward a common goal and everyone buys in, we have enough of the right ingredients to beat anybody on a given night anywhere," coach Mel Pearson said.
And Pearson finally senses everyone is starting to fully buy in.
That's not to say players ever doubted Pearson's philosophy. Instead, it shows just how hard it is for a consistent positive message to bore through the layers of a losing tradition and channel itself into real confidence, real performance and real results.
"Mel set the standard right away talking about how Michigan Tech has good hockey players. He knew coming in that good things could happen right away and the season wasn't a waste. He and the student-athletes have proven that," Tech athletic director Suzanne Sanregret said. "The most exciting thing about Saturday was seeing that momentum carry through from the night before."
Coming back from a 4-0 deficit to tie UMD Friday and sweeping the Bulldogs 5-0 Saturday - nine straight goals against the best team in the country, at its rink - are very real results.
"They both taught us two good lessons. One, that we can play back from being down, and the other, that we can play with a lead," said senior captain Brett Olson of his final series across the bridge from his hometown of Superior, Wis. "It sets the bar for our team."
And to all the naysayers - even a quick perusal of nationwide reactions to the UMD series proves there are still many - Tech has shown more than once this season it can beat top-tier teams.
"If it was only done once this year, maybe I'd say 'OK,' but you know, we went into Minnesota, we beat Denver, we beat Wisconsin, played real tough with Boston College - in different venues. ... We're just out to prove every night that we're a good hockey team," Pearson said.
And the "every night" - consistency - is what Tech needs to improve on to fully silence the doubters.
The Huskies have had their fair share of letdowns: at Bemidji State, vs. Alaska Anchorage (the first time), vs. Northern Michigan (both times) and in a home split against Minnesota State.
"The whole college hockey world is watching us now. We just proved we can beat the best team in the nation, but now we have a target on our backs, so we have to prove that we can play up to that level every weekend," said senior netminder Josh Robinson, whose 29-save shutout anchored Tech's stellar weekend in Duluth.
"Everyone's confidence is definitely pretty high right now, but ... we're just trying to keep an even keel going into this weekend," Robinson added.
Which is important since this weekend's road trip to Mankato represents the classic recipe for a trap game: coming off an emotional win against a great team, playing the 11th-place team in the WCHA (Minnesota State: 5-14-1 WCHA), with Winter Carnival coming up the following weekend.
So how does Tech avoid a letdown?
"That's the million-dollar question," Pearson admits. "You never know who's going to win on any given night and that's what makes it so appealing to fans. We understand the importance of the weekend, and I think that's the main thing. We're in a real tight race right now ... and every night's important."
Revenge could be a motivating factor for Tech after a loss to the Mavericks at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena in November, but instead of looking for a magic motivational potion, Tech is focusing on sustaining the same mindset every single week.
"It doesn't matter who we're playing, we just have to go out and take care of our business," Olson said.
Sound clich? Well, it's exactly what Pearson, his staff and every other player will say, too.
And it's true. Tech doesn't worry too much about adjusting to each opponent - they didn't even have a specially tailored game plan against the NCAA's current career leading scorer Jack Connolly - instead focusing on getting better and better at the system that's been in place from day one.
"It doesn't really matter who you're playing, it's all about us and preparing and going out and laying it on the line every night," Pearson said.
"We have to find a way to play with that same desperation we played with in Duluth for five periods and overtime," Pearson added. "We're all starting to buy in, and if we all buy in, we're going to have a chance every night."
Stephen Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/steander.