HANCOCK - After a 42-day layoff, the Finlandia men's hockey team finally gets to play a game at home.
The Lions host Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association opponent Concordia at the Houghton County Arena tonight and Saturday afternoon, the first games in Hancock since FU was swept by MCHA rival Lawrence the first day of December. In between, Finlandia took a three week winter-break and traveled to Division I Alabama-Huntsville and a tournament in Superior, Wis.
"It is great. The guys are excited," FU coach John McCabe said. "We are ready to kick off the rest of conference play at home, and hopefully jumpstart us for the second half."
The Lions returned from break last week to lose 3-0 to Curry and 2-1 to Nichols in the Yellowjacket Tournament at UW-Superior.
Despite the failure to record a victory, McCabe was actually quite pleased with the way his team came back from break.
"I thought we got better as the weekend went on," McCabe said. "We were coming back off a long layoff with only four days of practice, it took some time for us to get the legs under us.
"But when we did, we hit some posts and had a couple breakaways that just missed. We really played better than a one-goal weekend, we just didn't convert."
Standing at 3-5 in MCHA play, the Lions sit two points behind Lawrence in the North Division for a chance to host a home playoff game.
While there are still 12 conference games left in the regular season, McCabe has placed emphasis on protecting home ice now if the Lions want home ice in the postseason.
"It really is pivotal," McCabe said. "As far as staying in playoffs we have to win at home from here on out. It is going to be critical to win the games at home to keep the playoff spot. So it is kind of a must win for us tomorrow to get that ball rolling."
To that end, McCabe wants what all hockey coaches want when the puck isn't going in the net - more dirty goals.
"We really have to get more traffic to the net," McCabe said. "We have to start sacrificing and getting to those dangerous areas. And every man on the team has to be willing.
"It is a team commitment for sure. We have to commit to getting pucks on net and then get traffic in front of goalie. Get those second and third rebounds and find a way to put the puck in front of the net."
While it seemed in the first half of the season like junior Troy Chandler had locked up the starting job in net, McCabe started Jordan Marr last Saturday and liked what he saw.
"Chandler has been good. I thought he had a bit of a letdown for a couple games, but in the tournament he found his groove again," McCabe said. "Jordan Marr played very well in that second game though. He is going to be nipping at Chandler's heels the rest of the way. We are very comfortable with either at this point."