The journey of hockey.

Submitted by Gordon on April 10th, 2011 at 12:05 AM

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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

Comments

lhglrkwg

April 10th, 2011 at 1:07 AM ^

great year, so much overachieving and so great to cursh nodak but i'll spend the rest of my life wondering 'what if'. congrats though all around. im really glad Hunwick will get another shot. Thanks to all the seniors who wont

BlueDragon

April 10th, 2011 at 1:11 AM ^

I was afraid the insane posters (myself included) had taken over.  I'm glad to see that there are people level-headed enough to write something as insightful and calming as this.  I will go to bed happy tonight.

Go Blue.

kjaskolski

April 10th, 2011 at 1:39 AM ^

It was this close to being th perfect year.  A great run, led by the little man who alomost willed his team to a title.  A great year, Big Chill, GLI, CCHA regular Season, Regional Champ, upset of Dakota, and then oh so close in the finals.  I am a 15 year season ticket holder, and while i could be a "little" happier, am still very satisfied with this season.  Just thinking back to Senior nite puts a smile on my face.

g_reaper3

April 10th, 2011 at 3:31 AM ^

They won two titles with the GLI and the CCHA regular season.  But as a long time season ticket holder, it stings to be so close to the grand title and lose. 

But that is sports, particularly M sports, where nothing seems to come easy - all 3 ncaa championship games under Red ended 3-2 in OT for example.  Our 89 BB ncaa championship was also in OT and the 97 ncaa football championship split the polls despite us being undefeated.

Hopefully Red will get the team to regroup next year and we come out on top!

 

 

 

vegasjeff

April 10th, 2011 at 9:14 AM ^

A program with the history and championships is going to live with high hopes and a fan base that believes the team should win CCHA (soon, Big Ten) and NCAA titles. But that doesn't mean 2010-11 wasn't a great year for Michigan hockey.

As the diarist noted, the Big Chill stomping was a classic, the regular season title was awesome, the regional championship was epic and even the semifinal win against North Dakota featured epic goalie and defensive play to allow the Wolverines to advance. The program's last two NCAA titles were OT wins, so this OT loss was a bit of an equalizer.

Losing at Michigan is never easy to accept, but the young men had a great season and came oh so close to another championship.

 

DenverRob

April 10th, 2011 at 12:47 PM ^

nice post.

At the start of the season I thought we would hang banner #10. Midway through the season I thought probably not.

 

to get that close and lose is heartbreaking no matter anyones expectations

Wolverine Devotee

April 10th, 2011 at 1:30 PM ^

I love this team with all of my heart. They never gave up. Ever.

I remember back on those friday and saturday nights when I turn on that shitty ass Comcast channel to watch Michigan destroy teams. I remember back in early Feb when Michigan got swept by miami and I was just really worried because Michigan dropped to 3rd in the conference but the team pulled together and swept their way through the rest of the season. Also that saturday night thriller against western with 2.6 seconds left in OT which would eventually be a championship clinching win. I was jumping and screaming so loud like I never had before for a hockey game. When I found out western beat ND which meant Michigan would win the CCHA Championship I was excited as hell. Even though we didn't get the CCHA Tounrament Championship it was great to get a rematch with ND at the joe and beat them even though it wasn't for a trophy.

It was one HELL of a season and one DAMN GOOD run which I'll never forget.

2011 NCAA West Regional Champions

2010-11 CCHA Champions

Frozen Four for the 24th time

2010 GLI Champions.

Get ready for more banners and hardware to come in 2011-12. GO BLUE!

hps7751

April 10th, 2011 at 3:42 PM ^

The post does indeed put a lot of things into perspective.  That said, I'm just sick over this loss.  We played so well on Thursday night against a team supposedly superior to the newly-crowned national champions.  On Thursday we played with great discipline; focus; and calm.  That can't be said about last nights, Red's justifiable comments about the referees aside.  The most casual college hockey fan knew going into this game that staying out of the penalty box was a key for Michigan.  We just took too many "stupid" penalties.  This drained the forwards because they were chasing so much, and prevented us from doing any sustained cycling of the puck.  Why do you think Melrose kept yapping about Hagelin and Louie not doing anything insofar as scoring?

My son is a fifth-year senior at Michigan; he's going to graduate the end of this month.  The last time we won a national championship he was in fourth grade.  That's my frame of reference for how long it's been since we won the whole thing.  Too many great players and great teams have come and gone without getting the ultimate prize.  In no way does this fact doesn't diminish their accomplishments.  What it did do was to get on You Tube this morning and watch Morrison's OT goal in '96 and Langfeld's OT goal in '98.  For a moment I again remembered/felt what's it like when it turns out like we all wished and hoped, and perhaps expected, having gotten this far only to fall short. 

saveferris

April 12th, 2011 at 10:40 AM ^

For any individual athletic season is to see our teams hang banners.  The M hockey team is going to return in autumn 2011 hanging a CCHA Conference Championship, a GLI Championship and a Frozen Four banner.  We didn't get everything we wanted or hoped for and the brass ring was tantalizing close this season, but updates to 3 banners in Yost for next season...that ain't bad.

Thank you seniors and great job this season!  Go Blue.