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Icers know pressure comes with being No. 1

BY MARK GIANNOTTO
Daily Sports Writer
Published October 18, 2005

The hunter faces a completely different situation than that of the hunted. The hunted gets the best effort from every team it faces.

Because of the Michigan hockey team's best start since 1999, the powers that be in college hockey have rewarded them with the No. 1 ranking.

In the past, when holding the No. 1 position in the polls, the Wolverines have not performed up to their capabilities. Last season, the Wolverines were ranked No. 1 in the preseason and lost the opener to Northeastern. When Michigan regained its top ranking later in the season, it promptly lost to both Wisconsin and Minnesota in the College Hockey Showcase.

So next weekend's game against No. 10 Michigan State could spell trouble.

"The worst thing to be is No. 1," Michigan coach Red Berenson said before the team was named the nation's best. "Every time we're No. 1 we make sure that we don't stay there."

Over the weekend, No. 1 Minnesota lost once and tied once against Alaska-Fairbanks, No. 2 Denver lost both of its games to Maine and No. 3 Ohio State split its weekend series with No. 6 Colorado College. All of this, combined with Michigan's two wins this weekend, led to the Wolverines leaping six spots in the polls.

Not only did this weekend's games catapult Michigan to the No. 1 ranking, but it also showcased the much-improved CCHA. In this week's polls, five teams from the CCHA ranked in the top-20 (No. 1 Michigan, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 10 Michigan State, No. 16 Northern Michigan and No. 19 Alaska-Fairbanks).

Entering the CCHA regular season, the Wolverines know they will have to be on top of their games every night when facing so many talented teams.

"I think our league is better than people gave it credit for last year," Berenson said. "I think a lot of our teams are going to take a step forward this year."

Johnson's Big Night: With a sold-out crowd and numerous NHL scouts packed into Yost Ice Arena Friday night, freshman defenseman Jack Johnson made his presence known early and often.

In just the second minute of the first period, the Wolverines had a two-man advantage on Boston College, and Johnson immediately took control. After receiving a pass at the top of the right circle from junior Matt Hunwick, Johnson unleashed a one-timer that flew by Eagles goalie Cory Schneider.

"That first goal by Jack shouldn't have counted," Boston College coach Jerry York said. "He should be in the NHL right now."

But that was only the beginning of what would be a very high-paced, frenetic first period. Many of the Boston College players were on the receiving end of hits courtesy of the freshman defenseman. But one hit in particular was the defining moment of the game. As a Boston College forward skated full speed up the ice, Johnson collided with him in the middle of the ice, and won. The Eagles forward was laid out on his back - with Johnson standing over him soaking in the intense moment he had created.

When asked what he said to the Boston College player while he was on the ice, he responded, "Welcome to Yost."

Then in the third period, Johnson unleashed another slapshot from the top of the face-off circle that knocked off the goaltender Schneider's helmet.

"I feel that hockey is a game of intimidation," Johnson said. "If you are going to have a big hit and intimidate the goalie, it makes life easier for our forwards and even the defense. It makes life easier for everyone."

In the two games against Boston College and Merrimack this weekend, Johnson collected four points (one goal and three assists). For his efforts, he was named the CCHA Defenseman of the Week.

The Yost Factor: With a little over one minute remaining in the third period on Friday, Boston College called a timeout to discuss how they were going to tie the game up with Michigan. The crowd at Yost Ice Arena had other ideas.

"It was pretty loud," Boston College captain Peter Harrold said. "We almost couldn't hear our coach telling us what to do."

Despite the fact that the Eagles are used to playing in big time college hockey atmospheres, they couldn't help but acknowledge the advantage Michigan enjoys at Yost.

"This is a great place to play," Harrold said. "I have nothing but good things to say about Yost."