"At least Michigan Tech won't have to see Danny Kristo, Corban Knight and Mark MacMillan again (unless the Huskies face North Dakota in the playoffs)."
Ironically, that's how I started my Dec. 18 Tech hockey column, entitled, "Diagnosing what ails the Huskies." It was written after UND's top line accounted for 15 points in a 10-2 scoring margin over Tech in Houghton the previous weekend.
Now, after I apparently jinxed them, the Huskies have the unenviable task of traveling to Grand Forks, N.D., for a best-of-three playoff rematch against UND. But, the news isn't all bad.
It turns out the diagnoses mentioned in the Dec. 18 column were pretty accurate, and the Huskies have treated several of the maladies that plagued them during a disappointing first half of the season.
The Huskies followed the UND series by dominating the Great Lakes Invitational en route to an 8-8-1 second half. UND is 9-5-4 since Christmas.
"They took it to us good in December," Tech coach Mel Pearson said in a Daily Mining Gazette interview Monday evening, "but I'm encouraged because I think our team has come a long way. We've made bigger strides than they have in the second half."
Of course Pearson admitted the Huskies had much farther to come after the first half, too, but they've come a long way in many areas.
Namely, defense. Before Christmas, Tech was fifth worst in the country in allowing 3.71 goals against per game (while only scoring 2.65). Since Christmas, the Huskies have only given up 2.41 goals per game on average (while scoring 3.35), 15th of 59 teams in the country during that span.
Lately, in particular, Tech has held opponents' top scorers down.
Colorado College's Rylan Schwartz had notched 42 points this season entering this past weekend's series; he only tallied one assist against Tech. St. Cloud State's Drew LeBlanc also had 42 points entering the series against Tech two weeks ago, and he was held to two on the weekend.
That's just the kind of performance the Huskies need against Kristo, Knight, Rocco Grimaldi and Carter Rowney in particular this time around.
"Those four guys really did a good job against us last time. That's the key is just trying to limit them," Pearson said.
Of course goaltending is also critical in keeping goals against down, and Tech now has three goaltenders it can go to.
Freshman Pheonix Copley had a .851 save percentage at Christmas, including six starts, while senior Kevin Genoe was at .902 in 10 starts. Freshman Jamie Phillips only started one game, appearing in two others, for a save percentage of .905.
Since Christmas, Copley has started 15 of 17 games, tallying a .918 save percentage. Phillips has started two of the last three games for Tech, putting together a .946 save percentage during that time. Genoe has only faced six shots since Christmas, but saved all of them.
"We're comfortable with all three - couldn't have said that a month ago," Pearson said.
This weekend's starting goaltender is still in question and will be earned in practice today and Wednesday.
The team will be practicing at 11 a.m. (usually 3:30 p.m.) to make sure players stay relatively on routine during spring break. The team will leave Wednesday afternoon, stay overnight in Minnesota and arrive in Grand Forks early Thursday afternoon before a short practice.
Because it's spring break and the team is taking a bus to North Dakota, Tech will take all eligible players for what could be a three-game series.
"It's good team time, and we'll take everybody on the trip," said Pearson, who believes Tech makes up in depth what North Dakota has in senior leadership and top-tier talent.
CC coach Scott Owens was impressed with Tech's depth and late-season momentum after Saturday's game, in which his team escaped with a 4-3 win over the Huskies.
"We gave up a lot of shots (49-24 Tech), but I think they're a good team right now," he said. "I think they've got confidence, their depth is good."
Despite UND's 10-2 thumping of Tech in December, more recent games against common opponents are indicative of Tech's second-half improvements.
The Huskies outscored the CC Tigers 5-4 in the two-game series, while UND edged them 8-7 in a January series. Tech got the best of St. Cloud with an 8-6 scoring margin two weeks ago, while UND lost a 5-3 weekend margin in late January.
"I like where our team is at," Pearson said. "We have a lot of the right parts, and when we put it together we've shown we can compete with anybody.
" We're the underdog, a heavy, heavy underdog but we've risen to the challenge before."
Stephen Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/steander and interact throughout the week about Tech hockey with the #mtuhky hashtag.