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Major makeover at Michigan Tech

by Bob Snow
In Michigan -- and across the college hockey map -- you can't go much farther north than the Keweenaw Peninsula, home of the Michigan Tech Huskies in Houghton.

In the WCHA standings and across the college hockey rankings, however, it's been quite the opposite, with the storied program buried in the south of both for too many of the past three decades.

The 2011-12 season was predicted to be the same, with the preseason poll pegging Tech at the bottom of the 12-team league.

Gophers sweep Players of the Month

University of Minnesota goaltender Kent Patterson, who posted a 7-1-0 record, a 1.74 goals-against average, a .939 save percentage and a nation-best four shutouts in eight starts, was named last week as the Hockey Commissioners' Association National Division I Player of the Month for October.

A perfect 4-0-0 on the road, Patterson became the third Minnesota goaltender to shut out an opponent more than three times in the same month, joining Robb Stauber in 1988 and George Clausen in February of 1934.

Kyle Rau, a forward at the "U," is also the choice as HCA National Rookie of the Month for October.

The freshman from nearby Eden Prairie, produced 13 points on 7 goals and 6 assists in eight games, notching at least one point in seven games. He had six multi-point games and scored at least one goal in six of the eight games.

Rau, the team's first-line left wing, leads all freshmen nationally in both scoring and goals and is tied for the team lead with a plus-12 rating.

The Gophers, at 9-1-1, are ranked No. 1 in all national polls.

-- Bob Snow
Enter Tech alum Mel Pearson, one of 10 head-coaching changes this season, and likely the one with the greatest challenge.

Pearson, longtime assistant to Red Berenson at Michigan, was used to seasons that ended somewhere in the NCAA Tournament or the Frozen Four the past 20 years, while Michigan Tech struggled to finish most seasons beginning with the new year.

Some points to accentuate Pearson's challenge?

Tech's last trip to the NCAA Tournament was 1981; one winning season in Houghton the past 25 years; woeful 4-win and 5-win seasons the past two. 

The Huskies ruled the WCHA and NCAA roost -- along with Denver and Minnesota -- in the 1960s and '70s with legendary coach John MacInnes behind the pine.

Michigan Tech won it all in 1962, led by Lou Angotti, again in 1965 with Tony Esposito leading that way, and captured a third title in 1975.

The program also played in four other title games.

Coming in the front door, Pearson said last spring: "Michigan Tech was the school that gave me my first chance not only as a player, but as a coach, and I'm looking forward to working with the university, alumni and community in bringing back the winning tradition."

Just beginning the second month of this new season, what's the status of bringing back the winning?

How about a 6-3-1 record, good for more conference and total wins than all of last season, and the team's best start since that 1974-75 championship run.

Or second place in the WCHA behind No. 1 ranked Minnesota.

Or three wins and a tie against rivals Denver and Wisconsin in those four games.

Even a real possibility that the team could exceed its total wins in the last two seasons by the time Thanksgiving dinner is digested.

"Putting the past in the past," Pearson told about the first of several major makeover dynamics. "We couldn't change the past, but we have something to say about the future of Michigan Tech hockey."


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A new coaching staff with a lot of experience will assist in that say.

"I'm fortunate to have Steve Shields, Billy Muckalt, and Damon Whitten, all guys that came out of good programs and winning programs in college," Pearson said. "We just wanted to give the team the knowledge and the experience we had for a college program to win."

The collective goal from behind the bench?

"We needed to change the attitude; buy into the coaches and what we wanted the players to do. We wanted to make Houghton a tougher place for teams to come in and play. We've done that," said Pearson, who has guided the Huskies to a 6-1-1 record at MacInnes Arena.

"We needed to change the whole mindset of our program right from how we think, how we act, believing in ourselves and the program. Just basically learning how to win."

Has this transcended across the roster?

"We wiped the slate clean with Mel coming in and got ready for a new season," said Brett Olson, the team's 24-year-old captain, statesman and heart-and-soul. "Guys in my senior class have been working hard for three years prior to this. We really want to get something out of this last year."

The undrafted and articulate sports medicine major from nearby Superior, Wisconsin, leads his team in scoring with 12 points.

"The coaches have created a great attitude and great atmosphere to really find out how good we are," Olson said.

"Josh (Robinson), along with Kevin Genoe and Corson Cramer, has carried us in goal. Milos Kordic and Blake Pietila and Tanner Kero are guys with great poise up front. Add Carl Nielsen and senior Steve Seigo and the D is solid.

"Our role guys and shutdown guys have really filled out the team's performance."

They include seniors Jordan Baker, Alex MacLeod, Mikael Lickteig and Bryce Reddick, along with juniors Aaron Pietila and Tommy Brown.

The sophomore complement is Jacob Johnstone, Ryan Furne, Dennis Rix, Dan Sova, Patrick McCadden, Brad Stebner and Tyler Gubb. The frosh mix is Dave Johnstone, Riley Sweeney, Jimmy Davis and Nick Cecere.'s Top 10

1. Minnesota 9-1-0
2. Boston College 8-2-0
3. Colorado College 5-1-0
4. Michigan 7-2-1
5. Merrimack 7-0-1
6. Western Michigan 6-1-3
7. Notre Dame 5-2-2
8. Ferris State 8-2-0
9. Union 5-1-3
10. Minnesota-Duluth 5-3-2
How far can the Huskies realistically go in arguably the deepest conference?

"We really don't know how far we can go," Olson said, "but we have great possibilities to continue our season long into the spring. We have those goals set up in the locker room. The bar is the WCHA tournament, then keep progressing one goal at a time."

The Huskies ended October with a 7-2 thrashing of then No. 4 Denver, and followed up with a 2-2 tie against the Pioneers.

Maybe Pearson's quote right after that tie serves season-long notice about Tech's makeover.  

"We gave a gutsy effort," he said. "We matched their intensity from the beginning to end. If we play like we did tonight, we are going to win a lot of games."

On Campus Clips

Merrimack College in Hockey East stands alone as the nation's only unbeaten team at 7-0-1. … Ohio State recorded three consecutive shutouts for the first time in program history after a 6-0 victory over Alaska on Oct. 28 and a shutout sweep of Alabama-Huntsville (4-0, 2-0) last weekend. … Austin Smith led Colgate to a 5-3 win over Brown last Friday night to give head coach Don Vaughan his 300th career win, becoming the 13th active coach to reach the milestone. … The Hockey East Association and the NBC Sports Network announced a multi-year deal to broadcast Hockey East games live. NBC will also broadcast a Hockey East quarterfinal game on Friday, March 9, and the Hockey East Tournament the following weekend, all part of a 16-game college hockey schedule slated to start on VERSUS, which will be rebranded as the NBC Sports Network on Jan. 2. It marks the first time that the NBC Sports Group will air college hockey games.
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