It was loud. It was dramatic. It was legendary. It was historic.
It was the weekend Jed Ortmeyer achieved greatness. It was the weekend a mascot was ejected. It was the weekend Ron Mason coached his last game, and Ryan Miller played his last game. It was the weekend the CCHA Humanitarian of the Year almost murdered a dog. It was the weekend Denver stole Michigan’s locker room. It was the weekend the NCAA reconsidered its regional hosting policy.
It was one of the greatest sports experiences of my life. And incredibly, it was ten years ago this Friday.
You wouldn’t have expected this if you watched the first game. Ron Mason’s Spartan squad played so lifelessly against Colorado College that they forgot to even pull the goaltender (Michigan arch-nemesis Ryan Miller) until it was too late. I was preparing for a standard, slightly-louder-than normal playoff game against St. Cloud when I heard it: the chant that irrevocably signaled that the weekend would be among the most memorable in Michigan history.
“WE WANT MOLLY!”
“WE WANT MOLLY!”
“WE WANT MOLLY!”
On March 22 and 23, 2002, the six-team NCAA Hockey West Regional came to Yost Ice Arena. The teams were Denver, Minnesota, Michigan State, Michigan, Saint Cloud State, and Colorado College. The two days of hockey that those teams produced comprised the greatest weekend in the history of Yost. You can find the results in a database, and the results will tell you that Minnesota beat Colorado College and that Michigan beat Denver to advance to the Frozen Four. Those were the results.
This is the story.
The Molly Game: Yost at its Craziest
Michigan was a four seed drawn to play St. Cloud State as a 5 seed, a rematch of the West Regional final from the year before in Grand Rapids. Early pregame talk about the game surrounded St. Cloud’s inability to win in the NCAA tournament (the program didn’t win a game until 2010) and Michigan’s presumed home-ice advantage.
The conversation changed when the Michigan Daily picked up a quote from SCSU on-ice cheerleader Molly McGannon, who told the St. Cloud Times that she was treated poorly by Michigan fans in Grand Rapids. Her quotes spread all over town. “They’re horrible people,” she said. She further predicted that, on Michigan’s home ice, “They’ll be worse.”
She was right.
The initial team warmups were a normal affair, but as soon as the Michigan team left the ice and the band had concluded its pregame rendition of “The Victors,” the two sections reserved for Michigan students erupted in loud “WE WANT MOLLY!” chants. When Saint Cloud cheerleaders and the Husky mascot, Blizzard, emerged from the entrance behind the north goal, the noise became a roar.
As the cheerleaders performed their standard pregame routine of skating around in circles and waving pom-poms, the students showered them with catcalls and insults. It was loud, menacing, and for the husky mascot, infuriating. The routine ended as the Saint Cloud players took the ice from the north endzone; the students began waving and howling “Ooooooooooohhhhhhhhhh” expecting them to depart promptly. They did not understand that the cheer team procedure involved remaining on the ice almost until faceoff; following their exit, cheerleaders traditionally entered the grandstands for the hockey action during the period.
The cheerleaders would not be entering the stands at Yost.
Michigan took the ice and began its customary counter-clockwise warmup skate. Star defenseman Mike Komisarek noticed that two cheerleaders were standing in formation on Michigan’s half of center-ice, and as he skated around he very deliberately lowered his stick and tapped the back of the girl’s skates, nearly causing her to fall. After “The Victors” concluded students resumed taunting the cheer team, whose members were now so psychologically shattered that they could only exchange terrified glances at each other.
During player introductions the cheerleaders continued to be jeered on the ice, occasionally interrupted by the introduction of players. When each Michigan player was introduced, the mascot would skate up to them and take fake-swings at their heads with his hockey stick while spewing taunts. He was not being ironic.
Following introductions, the cheerleaders finally left the ice to a muffled C-YA chant as the teams huddled around their respective goals. The Husky, however, refused to leave, and a linesman eventually had to corral him and physically escort him to the north exit, behind the goal Michigan was huddled around.
That’s when the mascot speared defenseman Brandon Rogers.
And that was when backup goaltender Kevin O’Malley, who was named CCHA Humanitarian of the Year just the week before, launched himself toward the exit. He went fully airborne, blasted straight through the linesman, and attacked the mascot just inside the door. It was total chaos.
Then the actual game started.
It was a good one; Michigan charged to a 3-1 lead in an electric first period, chasing Husky goalie Dean Weasler. Enigmatic freshman winger Milan Gajic scored the goal of his life, a behind-the-back spin-pass to himself behind the goal followed by a gliding skate out front and a roofed shot. But the moment everyone remembers was this one, perhaps the best hit in Michigan history, served by the peerless Jed Ortmeyer.
St. Cloud crept back into the game, trailing only 3-2 in the third, but star forward Mark Hartigan missed a wide-open net after deking past Josh Blackburn. St. Cloud could not recover, and Michigan won 4-2.
It was time for Michigan to play #1 seed Denver.
The Denver Game: Yost at its Loudest.
Michigan’s new locker room, still a sparkling part of the facility, was much nicer than the other three locker rooms available for regional competitors. In the week leading up to Regionals, Denver made a stink about this and Michigan was ordered to vacate its locker room and allow top seed Denver to use it.
After the game, Red Berenson said, “Maybe they shouldn’t have taken our locker room away.”
This game doesn’t get the legendary treatment of the game the day before, but it was my favorite part of the weekend and one of the best sporting events I have ever witnessed. Many fans who were there say that it was the loudest they’ve ever heard Yost Arena; the only game that comes close was the ’98 regional game against North Dakota.
It was a wonderful game. That ’02 Denver team was terrific, and they played a defensive, checking style very similar to the MSU teams of the era. Goalie Wade Dubielewicz was a dominant player, and after their WCHA title many favored them to win the national title.
After a scoreless first period the teams traded five goals in the second. Michigan seemed to be in good shape up 2-1 until Mike Komisarek attempted to kill a penalty by grabbing the puck and throwing it 150 feet down the ice; the resulting 5-on-3 allowed Denver to tie the game, and they took a 3-2 lead a short time later.
Denver never gave away third period leads--they were 28-1 when leading after two. The crowd was nervous, or at least subdued; I was terrified. This was it, the season on the line, needing a goal against an impenetrable team.
Eric Werner tied the game 4:47 into the period. The crowd was back. Raucous “Go! Blue!” chants traded sides. Every hit was cheered, every shot exhorted. Michigan took control of play, but as the clock ticked down overtime seemed certain.
Jed Ortmeyer did not come to Michigan as an exceptional offensive talent, and NHL scouts never drooled over his physical attributes. He had the face of a teddy bear. There were always players on Michigan who were more imposing, players who were better skilled. But Ortmeyer was a remarkable leader and a tireless worker. And he lived for these moments.
With less than two minutes left, Mike Cammalleri fed him the puck in the neutral zone...
(Look closely for the Michigan player who pulls the net off its moorings to allow the rest of the team to pile on top of Ortmeyer. Red trains smart players.)
Ortmeyer’s goal blew the place up. I’ve attended UM-OSU football games at both venues; I’ve been to games at Texas A&M and LSU; I’ve been to Red Wing playoff games; but I’ve never been in a place like that. The audio on the recording simply does not convey how ear-bleedingly loud Yost was. The Denver players couldn’t look away from the crowd--they were beaten, it was over, and they knew it.
Often forgotten, the officials stopped the game for ten minutes to deal with a timekeeping problem. The crowd roared unceasingly throughout the stoppage. When retiring rink announcer Glenn Williams gave his celebratory “You’re Welcome!” to the students, they went nuts. When Eric Nystrom flipped a puck from center ice into the open net, the place went bonkers again.
At the conclusion of the game, after the handshakes, Ortmeyer organized an improptu fan salute, before it was a regular procedure. The players gathered in the center circle and faced outward, grins on their faces, and raised their sticks in the air. The crowd gave one last, deafening cheer. Triumph.
What a weekend.
(Click the image to view full size)
That glorious time of year for football fans when the torch is passed
to a new set of leaders, the hunger for gossip is well fed, and
optimism is recharged, renewed, and rewarded.
This spring we have ample reason to be excited, most obviously because
we're once again coming off a successful season with a BCS win under our belt.
But, those victories are now the past, and it would be wise not to dwell on them
much longer with the national champions looming just beyond our horizon.
Still, with the sounds of pads hitting sleds echoing through the
Al Glick Fieldhouse, there's plenty of reason to be enthused. Go Blue.
OnThursday we'll look to the ice, where East Pneumonia's favorite Michigan family will gear up for Hunwick and company as they attempt to return to the Frozen Four.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs (typically) every Tuesday here at MGoBlog, and at least
every Thursday on its official home page. Also, don't forget to check out our newest
feature, Friday Roughs, a spontaneous low-end comic based on trending
Michigan events, available on Twitter and Facebook every Friday.
Truth defeating falsehood was the theme of the day as Michigan shut out the Spartans. The doubles point was fiercely contested as both schools managed to win a game. King and Bernstein prevailed on 1 court for Michigan, winning 8-3. Freshman team Petrone and Zhu struggled early on and lost their doubles match on 3 court, 6-8. Among other problems both Wolverines struggled to land their first serves and had trouble finding traction in long volleys. The third doubles match was won by Michigan in the tiebreaker. Buzzi and Franks both made fine plays for Michigan at the net and behind the baseline. MSU's players struggled at times to hit the ball over the net and to get second serves in the box, a trend that continued in singles play.
No. 10 ranked Evan King made short work of MSU's tank at Court 1, prevailing 6-0, 6-2. Up 4-0 in the second, King had two break points against his opponent but yielded the point, settling for a non-6-0-6-0 score. Buzzi won the next match at 6 court, defeating his opponent 7-5, 6-3. Buzzi is looking very solid these days and has improved to 3-3 on 6 court this season. Zhu and Franks also won their matches in straight sets. The grittiness prize goes to Petrone from the match. Down 3-0 in the third set, the fabulous freshman rallied to win the final set 6-3. Bernstein has also made strides in his game recently. His serves, particularly in doubles, were much more testing than they have been in the past, and he got them in the first time more frequently as well.
The heavy rains the night before the match delayed the start of play for almost an hour as staffers with towels and leaf blowers were deployed to help dry out the courts. The match was Michigan's first home outdoor match of the season, the road series against Hawaii also having been heavily delayed by rainfall. Fortunately the Michigan women's team was scrimmaging on adjacent outdoor courts, preparing for their Sunday match against UNC. Michigan lost 4-3 in that matchup.
With Saturday's win Michigan men's tennis has now won its last nine matches against MSU, and boasts a 1-0 Big Ten record. At 8-4 Michigan needs five more wins to match its record from last year. Wins against Wake Forest and Hawaii to round out the nonconference season help take off some of the pressure, although Ohio is as formidable as ever.
Michigan gets two more commits over the past week, so the Big Ten recruiting rankings are front-paged. Also making a big move is Penn State, which grabbed a pair of commits of their own. Changes since last rankings:
3-9-12: Penn State picks up Adam Breneman.
3-10-12: Michigan picks up Gareon Conley.
3-13-12: Michigan State picks up Caleb Benenoch.
3-14-12: Notre Dame picks up James Onwualu.
3-15-12: Illinois picks up Jesse Chadwell.
3-17-12: Michigan picks up DeVeon Smith. Penn State picks up Brendan Mahon.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||24/7 Avg||Avg Avg^|
^The average of the average rankings of the three recruiting services (aka the previous four columns). The figure is calculated based on the raw numbers and then rounded, so the numbers above may not average out exactly.
NOTE: Unranked recruits are counted as one-star players. This may be a bit unfair this early in the process, considering there are many unevaluated recruits out there at this stage, but that's life.
On to the full data, after the jump.
CCHA Tournament Picture Pages
The Clare shorthanded goal is excluded because of the of highlights length, but it was very cool to see him deke like Gordan Bombay.
Here we start with Merrill and Clare high, Brown is having his way in front. With only 12 seconds left Merrill just throws the puck to the net.
As you can see Brown has set a perfect screen. Hammond is still up because he can't see it, but the the shot is already on the way and it's low.
He tries to go for the tip, but it doesn't matter that he missed because the shot is already in the back of the net.
After a nice stick to keep the puck in, the Wolvereines gain control along the back boards. As illustrated each Bowling Green defender has his eyes locked onto the puck, not aware of any cutting forwards.
A beautiful pass from Moffatt across the crease finds a streaking David Wohlberg.
And the Wolvereines have the second goal of the night.
Another hustle play keeps the zone, with Treais gathering along the side boards.
Even with three defenders around him and a near trip, Treais still gets to the net.
This was one of the only mistakes Hammond made all night and it was the biggest. He was challenging way too high out in the first place, but A.J. gets him to drop and he has no chance to recover.
The stomach slide keeps him from dunking it, but with three Michigan forwards crashing there isn't much of a chance for BG to save it.
Moffatt continues his great weekend with the game winner.
This was a great goal for our powerplay unit and it really stood out to me after I watched it. This is the exact same play Michigan State ran against us earlier in the year, that I wished Red would draw up for us. Here it is.
Michigan has Merrill on point, Treais handing with Moffie opposite and Moffatt low. I can't see the screener and I'm to lazy to check the box score to see who it is.
Once Treais gives to Moffatt, he and Moffie and both going to come low. It makes Western have to choose quickly who to cover and who to leave open.
They make the right choice by covering the center, Treais and challenging Moffatt. It leaves us with the difficult play of trying to find Moffie across the crease, or pulling out and resetting.
Moffat picks the difficult route and slides the puck right through the crease, the only penalty killer who can attempt to break it up is a lefty.
Moffie slaps it in with a nice one timer and brings Michigan within one goal.
Altough they did score differently here is that MSU PP goal
Saturday’s championship (and 3rd place) games caused a couple of changes to the final Pairwise rankings. Michigan had already locked up the #2 overall seed, but there were still a few spots up for grabs entering play on Saturday, and in a couple instances, teams could have ended up as high as #3 overall, and as low as #10 or #11. Here are Saturday’s results:
CCHA championship: Western Michigan beat Michigan
CCHA 3rd place: Miami beat BG
Atlantic Hockey championship: Air Force beat RIT
ECAC championship: Union beat Harvard
ECAC 3rd place: Cornell beat Colgate
Hockey East championship: BC beat Maine
WCHA championship: North Dakota beat Denver
As a result of these…er...results, here are the final Pairwise rankings:
- Boston College
- North Dakota
- Ferris State
- Boston University
- Western Michigan
- Michigan State
- Air Force
The bracketing starts by placing the top four teams in the closest regional, then doing the #2, #3, and #4 seeds so that there are no intraconference matchups in the first round, and to try and have “bracket integrity,” meaning the first round has 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, etc. and the second round would have 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, etc. The two things that can draw things away from bracket integrity are 1) host schools, which in this case means Minnesota, which must be placed in St. Paul, and 2) attendance considerations, so that a couple of 2 or 3 seeds might be switched to ensure better attendance at regionals, and to prevent things like an Eastern regional from having mostly Western teams. With that in mind, here is the bracket I have come up with:
1. Boston College
16. Air Force
9. Boston University 10. Maine
St. Paul, MN
4. North Dakota
14. Western Michigan
10. Maine 9. Boston University
Green Bay, WI
6. Ferris State
15. Michigan State
EDIT: switched BU and Maine to keep the 8-9 and 7-10 matchups in the first round.
This is pretty much the bracket I posted yesterday, but with Western and State switched as a result of Western winning the CCHA. It is also possible that Michigan (along with Cornell) could get put in St. Paul for better bracket integrity. That would basically switch the Michigan-Cornell game with the North Dakota-Western game. I really don’t think this will happen though, since you’d be giving the #2 seed a more distant regional, a more difficult than expected first round game, and a host school in the second round. That’s a trifecta of screwing that I don’t think even the NCAA selection committee is capable of. Plus, the attendance setup is probably better with Michigan in Green Bay and North Dakota in St. Paul.
The Cornell matchup is pretty much a given in the first round. I mentioned this in comments to another post this morning, but that is a pretty tough matchup. Cornell has six shutouts on the year (including their game Saturday), and simply don’t give up a lot of goals (only gave up more than three goals six times all year). They have also had 10 of their last 20 games go to overtime, so be prepared for a close, white-knuckle finish.
So there is my bracket prediction. We’ll find out how right I am tomorrow at noon on ESPNU when the brackets are announced. Go Blue!