And with that, the 2010-2011 Michigan Wolverines hockey season is over.
One bad turnover, one quick pass-and-shoot, and Minnesota-Duluth has won the national championship.
On one hand, I should be feeling disappointed. I should feel terrible right now. Instead, while I'm not ecstatic, there's an inner sense of contentment.
In hockey, like life, it is not necessarily the ending that is as important as the journey to get there, especially in college hockey. This is not the end of anyone's story, but merely the closing of a chapter, as we turn the page to next season, next job, and next life milestone. This is especially true in college hockey, as any team is merely a waystation for what is to come in life. Every member of that roster came into Michigan with different circumstances, and will leave changed for the better, win or lose.
It's with this outlook that I can't help but be satisfied with the season. This season was left better than it was approached, and that has to leave a great impression.
Before this season, the Michigan fanbase could expect greatness from the team only if everyone played as well as they could, and I do mean everyone. There was no surefire star on this team, no obvious future NHL'er that could carry the team all year. Instead, Michigan was a very good team from top to bottom, and greatness had to come from hard work, solid play, and a little luck.
If things came together, this story would go down as a great one. If not, this squad risked the same ignominy that the football team has had recently. Remarkably though, Michigan's stories, big and small, were as epic as we could have hoped.
Shawn Hunwick was not supposed to be a Michigan goalie. He certainly was not even supposed to become a full-time starter. Summing this up is today's New York Times article on him, titled "Walk-On Goalie Is on Brink of Title". Not "Shawn Hunwick, Walk-On Goalie Is on Brink of Title." Merely "Walk-On Goalie". Walk-on players, of any stripe, aren't supposed to get much playing time, much less at such a crucial position. That article isn't just amazed at what Hunwick has done, it's astonished that a walk-on could be the winning goalie for a national championship. Any walk-on would be amazing, especially in this role.
Meanwhile, Hunwick barely played during his freshman year, did not play during his sophomore year, and ended up backstopping a miracle run in 2010 before coming in during the biggest regular season game in school history during the warmups, and never giving up the job since. At the end of the season, Shawn had a tournament run for the ages, with game after game of fantastic goaltending. Is that anything to be disappointed about?
Carl Hagelin was not supposed to be a team MVP at the University of Michigan. No Swede had ever played in Ann Arbor before, as the Swedish path to pro hockey wove through various national elite leagues. Carl's first trip to Ann Arbor was even as an afterthought, tagging along with his brother to Red Berenson's summer hockey camp. Eventually, Hagelin settled on Michigan to continue his hockey career, coming in as a fairly unheralded recruit, and the first ever Swede to play for Michigan.
Four years later, the Michigan Hockey Pep Band was playing the Swedish national anthem before Senior Night. The student section was signing a giant Swedish flag with good luck messages. And Carl Hagelin ended his career at Yost Ice Arena as a team legend, with a last-second overtime goal to keep CCHA championship dreams alive. Over the course of four years, Hagelin has developed into a remarkable player, with team records for speed (60-0 on team races up the Michigan Stadium steps), team scoring championships, a team MVP award, being named the CCHA's top defensive forward, and being named an All-American.
At this time next year, around the time that new banners go up, and old banners get updated, there will be a Carl Hagelin plaque hanging in the north hallway of Yost. Is that anything to be disappointed about?
Four months ago, we were all somewhat worried about Michigan Hockey. The team was underachieving, as every weekend brought a loss on Friday night, before a consoling win on Saturday. There weren't that many strong weekends for the Wolverines, as it looked like a repeat of 2009-2010's struggles. Only, how many streaks could one team go on? Would this be where the luck ran out?
The fulcrum of the season, for better or worse, looked to be the Big Chill, coming up that weekend. Years of preparation went into this game, with everything seemingly ready except for the host team.
It took a last second injury to place Shawn Hunwick between the pipes for Michigan that day, and he did not give up a goal. From that point on, he was rolling, for that game, for that season.
Just over the halfway mark of the first period, freshman Jon Merrill, until that point just known as a big recruit, scored to put Michigan up 1-0. He'd score another later on, as Michigan romped to an eventual 5-0 win, and Michigan started on the first real winning stretch of the season. Nine wins in ten games put us in contention for a CCHA title, and brought another GLI championship to Ann Arbor.
Two months ago, Michigan was again reeling. The season seemed to have slipped away with two brutal losses in Oxford, Ohio. The Wolverines came into a weekend series at Miami with a chance to put the Redhawks away, and instead came out of it in 3rd place. 4-2, and 3-0. Two crucial losses, with no games left to play against the teams above us in the standings.
Michigan came back to Yost needing to win with outside luck for a championship. In the first weekend, the Wolverines held onto two games against Ohio State, both by one goal, both with great defense at the end. Meanwhile, Miami split a series with Lake Superior State, and began running out of games, ultimately getting passed by two teams.
In the second weekend, Michigan started off on Friday with a blowout win over Western, 6-3. Michigan played with desperation, scoring two goals in the first period, two goals early in the second, and keeping Western at arms length. Despite all of that, every point was crucial, as Notre Dame kept winning to stay in 1st place.
On Saturday night, it wouldn't be so easy for Michigan. Western jumped out to a 3-1 lead, Michigan fought back to tie the game at 3, and Western punched back with a goal early in the 3rd period for a 4-3 lead.
Over that last period, Michigan played like their season came down to it. After chance after chance barely missing, Carl Hagelin came into the Western zone, fired a random shot on net, and the puck squeaked into the bottom corner. 4-4. Tie game. At that point, I firmly believe that Michigan willed that puck in. The players, the fans, everyone. Everyone in that building willed the puck into the net, and there was nothing that could be done about it. Five minutes later, the same thing. One last rush before losing any hope of three points, and Carl's last shot won it. Michigan had to win this game, and we won on our last gasp.
Naturally, Michigan would win during the last weekend of CCHA play, and have Notre Dame lose, at home, on Saturday night, on three goals that were waived off, to finally win the conference title. What a way to end the regular season.
Can either of those two parts of the season be considered a disappointment?
Sure, we didn't win the national championship. We lost in overtime, of the very last game of the year. Still though, three straight tournament games where we hung on by the closest of margins, and all of them were victories? I guess we couldn't make it four straight, but three straight victories like that ain't that bad.
At the end of the day though, this Michigan Hockey team was a remarkably fun one to watch. The journey of this season was one to remember, even if the ending was not absolutely perfect. Even before the tournament, the season was filled with great performances, unbelievable games, and a roster full of players that will go down as greats.
Looking back, any Michigan Hockey fan has to be satisfied. This season was one to remember, and one to remember with pride, joy, and fondness.
And as always, go Blue.
Checked ESPNU.com this morning and Red and Luke Glendening were rockin' the homepage. Hope we can get the "W" tonight and bring a title back to A2!!.
On the page there is a video with Thorne and Melrose talking about the Semi-Final games and a little preview, then there's Red's press conference from yesterday also.
“Okay, boys. We have a one score lead. I want you to run up the middle three times and punt. We’ll play solid prevent, and then we’ll do it again, and again.”
As fans, we remember this as the most irritating trait of Coach Carr. His endless focus on reducing variance and stalling his way to wins was infuriating. We recall the many games against Tressel and our bowl opponents that this strategy cost us. We remember punting from the 40 on 3rd and 2. We remember that fourth quarter field goal when M was up only 3 that we just knew would come back to bite us.
What we forget is that in the years Lloyd had a satisfactory defense, it worked. It worked to the tune of an 88% winning percentage. It worked to the tune of 5 Big Ten titles and a National Championship. And it didn’t work because Lloyd was lucky. It worked because he knew exactly what he was doing. I mean, seriously, I assume that nobody who knows anything about college football would ever question whether Lloyd Carr had a plan. At times, certain coaches seem to be winging it, throwing things out there just to try to find a magic formula. Not Lloyd Carr. Even during losses, he was always in control.
Last night, the ghost of his coaching career possessed Red Berensen. Shawn Hunwick stopped 40 shots, and Michigan spent the final two periods of the game playing prevent. Defensemen flew all over the ice, clogging lanes and disrupting flow. When Michigan did obtain the puck, we made three rushes up the middle and punted, clearing the puck from about center ice and setting up the defense again and again.
“Make that lead hold up, boys! Drive them crazy!”
Just like a Lloyd coached game, UND had chances, and plenty of them. But what they got very little of was the break away, one on that makes goalies around the world wet themselves. Most of their good chances erupted from a pile of bodies, more of which were Maize and Blue than Green and White. But it was always in a pile of chaos that’s hard to take advantage of.
“We’re gonna out-execute them. No mistakes. Do it right every time.”
As fans, like so many Lloyd coached games we watched, a lead felt an awful lot like a deficit until a kid named Scooter buried an empty netter with 35 second to play. We spent most of the night screaming at the TV, “Cmon! Get it going on O! Get some shots! Generate some pressure!”
Red knew though, as Lloyd did, better than us. UND was, and is, an offensive juggernaut that will make you pay for your mistakes. But discipline, quality play and the refusal to make any of those mistakes will drive your opponent crazy. They continue to push, waiting for that moment when you dedicate four to their end and they can put out a two on one break. Don’t give it to them.
Does it always work? No. Can you do it with just anybody? No. You need a star, too; someone to make a play when variance does overwhelm discipline. It’s important to recognize those stars. They’re the guys that make Lloyd and Red’s brilliance work. Lloyd had Charles Woodson. Red has Shawn Hunwick.
But that’s all part of the plan. Play clean. Play smart. Execute. Get your stars in position to pick up the slack and win the big ones. Stymie everyone. Be solid. Be stoic. Be brave. Be Michigan, and you will be a champion.
We Salute You, Coach.
I was reading a leadership article and there was a good shout out to Red Berenson. Here is the quote (in the context of leadership)
I remember a conversation I had with the legendary University of Michigan hockey coach, Red Berenson. He said that if he raised his voice with a freshman, he might cost the kid his confidence. On the other hand, if he didn't raise Cain occasionally with a senior, that player might lose his concentration. It's a matter of picking your spots and acting appropriately.
According to an article on MLive Red Berenson wants answers.
He freely admits in the article that it's mostly just sour grapes, but he says because he never received a good explanation, he thinks the rule does need to be qualified going forward. He is, evidently, going to work with the athletic department to get an explanation out of the NCAA.
My explanation? The ref was/is either a moron or a jackhole. He either made an insanely stupid mistake, or intentionally made the wrong call. We'll have to see how the NCAA goes with that one, because there can be no doubt that ONE of those is true.
Cool video is up on mgoblue showing the hockey team practicing in Camp Randall.
Right now its the first video in the list... http://www.mgoblue.com/mzone/
[edit: AdBlock for firefox needs to be disabled for the video to play]