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Yost crowd helps Michigan hockey keep Joe Louis streak alive

Adam Schnitzer/Daily
Michigan coach Red Berenson has led Michigan to the CCHA semifinals for 23 straight seasons. Buy this photo

By Liz Vukelich, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 12, 2012

The No. 3 Michigan hockey team has a lot of streaks to keep track of.

Some are as small as the team’s latest winning streak, currently at three games. Others are longer, like the number of consecutive times Michigan has received a bid to the NCAA Tournament — 22, after next weekend’s selection show.

No player really likes to bring those streaks up, though. Any possible mention of one being snapped is something of a taboo subject in and around the locker room. It's almost as if just thinking it can cause it to happen.

But this week, the Wolverines can sit tight, at least for the time being. The weekend sweep of Notre Dame means Michigan punched its ticket to the CCHA Tournament semifinals for the 23rd-consecutive year.

“That’s a tribute to the players, the coaches and the support we’ve had from our fans,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson on Saturday. “It’s a great situation. They don’t hand it out. We had to pay our dues, we had to earn that.”

When reflecting on some of the season’s rocky points, it's hard for the team not to get excited about playing for the Mason Cup at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena for another year.

The Wolverines faced a month-long win drought in November and tough splits against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Bowling Green in the last two months before ultimately finishing out their regular season at 21-11- 4.

Some of that has to do with the program's direction under Berenson.

“A lot of really good players have played here,” said fifth-year senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick. “Coach really knows what he’s talking about. The guys from the last 24 years have been able to bring the intensity.”

But Michigan’s success has as much to do with the environment it plays in as the team’s storied history.

The team takes pride in the fact that Yost Ice Arena is one of the CCHA’s toughest venues to play in — and Saturday didn’t disappoint.

The crowd’s energy on Saturday was contagious, with the fans wanting to send the Wolverines off from their last home game with a bang. When Notre Dame took a timeout with a minute remaining in the third period, noise levels seemed to shake the building’s infrastructure to the core. No doubt communication on the Fighting Irish bench, situated closest to the student section, suffered.

According to senior forward David Wohlberg, that enthusiasm was what helped Michigan hold off Notre Dame, even while shorthanded.

“That comes with home-ice advantage,” Wohlberg said. “The fans here are great and they helped us out a lot (on Saturday). It’s one of those things that you don’t forget about when you look back and see which games you won.”

Michigan has averaged over 6,000 fans per game this season, a far cry from the 3,000-some that left the arena half-full in Berenson’s first year at the helm in 1984.

By the end of the night, all Michigan’s seniors wanted to do was to skate off their home ice one last time following a win.

And they couldn’t help but smile after the game.

“Our class wanted to go out with a bang,” Hunwick said. “We wanted to get to the Joe to keep that streak alive. We’ve got a ton of streaks to keep alive, and luckily enough, we’ve been able to do it so far.”