- Jake Fromm/Daily
BY RYAN KARTJE
Daily Sports Editor
Published February 14, 2010
OMAHA — Nobody wanted it to end this way.
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But as I've watched the Michigan hockey team’s struggles all season long, the prospect of this had rarely crossed my mind. A fleeting thought, if that.
And as Tristin Llewellyn knocked in an own-goal in the first period of the Wolverines’ 4-3 loss to Nebraska-Omaha on Friday, the thoughts became more frequent.
Then, on the heels of another loss, senior defenseman Steve Kampfer walked out of the locker room. He told reporters how Michigan’s drop to seventh in the conference was “unacceptable” for this team. “It needs to start showing next weekend,” he said.
The frequent thoughts, the plummeting Pairwise rankings, the recycled “it starts next weekend” quotes, they became too loud to ignore the obvious.
The Michigan hockey team’s streak of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances — the longest of its kind in the NCAA — has been pronounced dead at 19.
The margin for error has diminished entirely, and despite the Wolverines’ inability to pinpoint exactly what has gone wrong on a game-to-game basis, you and I both know that this column is an obituary. Nothing more, nothing less.
With just 17 wins and four games remaining, Michigan’s Pairwise ranking — which directly chooses the Tournament’s at-large bids — went into cardiac arrest in Omaha. And there’s little hope of revival.
Michigan’s remaining conference games could theoretically pull them into a tie for second place in the CCHA, if the pieces fall just perfectly. Six points, and the Wolverines are even with Ferris State and Michigan State.
And with two games in hand on Nebraska-Omaha and Alaska, in fourth and fifth place, respectively, and a weekend series coming up against the other fifth-place team, Northern Michigan, it absolutely seems within reach.
But it just hasn’t been that kind of season for the Wolverines. And I’ve had enough of ignoring the obvious.
Michigan and the Pairwise rankings are now strangers, having recently been acquainted before this past weekend. Now, the Wolverines are survived by little other than the apparently inflated expectations they started the season with.
Michigan coach Red Berenson had his team, already operating on life support, playing with a sense of urgency. They continued to climb from a sub-.500 start through 15 games, one of the worst starts in Berenson’s tenure.
Then, seven wins and a tie in 10 games, with losses to just the CCHA’s top tier, gave them a pulse. Still, the Wolverines had to make a move or time would run out. It was already running out. Faster and faster.
And with this sweep at the hands of Nebraska-Omaha, the plug was finally pulled.
Yes, the Wolverines could still win the CCHA Tournament. Yes, it is possible that they put together four straight wins (since they probably won’t get a bye), even though they have only managed a four-game win streak once this entire season.
It’s entirely possible, but the point of an obituary is to let go, right? To ease your sorrow? So I urge you, come to terms with the fact that for the first time since Berenson dug Michigan out of its NCAA Tournament slump, he won’t be behind the bench in the middle of March.
And remember the happier times.
The streak lives on in two national championships, 10 Frozen Fours, two Hobey Baker winners.
The Wolverines have been some dynasty, haven’t they?
And maybe we all need to come to terms with the idea that all good things must come to an end.
Berenson, Michigan’s most decorated coach in program history, has gestured to the fact that he will be back next season, but even that ship will sail sooner than later.
Started in the 1990-91 season, the Wolverines streak set the bar for NCAA Division I hockey.
And as of Feb 13, 2010, all signs point to an offseason full of mourning for Michigan hockey fans.
Well, it sure was a hell of a run. May it rest in peace.
-Kartje hopes he doesn't have to write any more obituaries as a journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org