First, Mel Pearson congratulated his players.
He then praised the efforts of Boston University.
Next, he talked about luck.
“The hockey gods were looking down on us tonight, no doubt about it,” the Michigan hockey coach said in the postgame press conference following the NCAA Regional on Sunday.
The weekend represented a tremendous milestone for the Wolverines. With victories over Northeastern and then the Terriers the following day, Michigan booked its first trip to the Frozen Four since the 2010-11 season.
In an NCAA Tournament which featured two No. 1 seeds in St. Cloud State and Cornell falling in the first round, it’s hard to say that luck didn’t play any kind of role in the outcome of games.
Pearson acknowledged this potential impact.
“Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good,” he noted of the tournament’s games.
“But we were good and lucky.”
No kidding. Learning from many of its regular-season mistakes, Michigan did exactly what it needed to both Saturday and Sunday — and did so in a way that never even made it seem all that close. And for this, the team deserves credit.
Of course, as could be anticipated, both of the Wolverines’ games were competitive and imperfect. Yet against Northeastern, Michigan appeared the more dominant team, plain and simple. And against Boston University, it won by three goals.
The coaches of both Northeastern and Boston University were quick to commend the Wolverines for the fast pace of play set in the regional games. At the onset of the season, the first thing Pearson wanted to overhaul was puck possession and increasing the pace of play from the year before. There is no way to deny that this intention materialized.
And what about not playing from behind? Michigan demonstrated mastery in this area, too.
The significance in gaining the first lead is often emphasized in hockey. Both days at the DCU Center, not only did the Wolverines get on the board first, but they never fell behind.
Michigan saw its upperclassmen take charge, as well. The top line of seniors Tony Calderone and Dexter Dancs and junior Cooper Marody cleaned up the stats sheet, accounting for all three goals in the first game. But that wouldn’t be the entire story of the weekend.
Doubling the output the next night, the Wolverines found five of their six goals against Boston University provided by other lines. Three of those came from underclassmen, and all were by separate players. A bailout wasn’t necessary — in the regional the entire team truly did its part.
Heading into the weekend, Michigan was advised to stay out of the box due to Northeastern’s elite power play — possessing a conversion percentage of 27.50. It took the recommendation to stay on the ice to heart, taking just four penalty minutes over the course game. There were games this season where that number was quadrupled.
In the postseason, the integration of these improvements was a necessity for Wolverines’ survival. After all, a single misstep in Worcester, Mass. would have ended the season before the Frozen Four.
Every team knew the stakes. And though it can be said that the last team standing had some luck in winning the wide open Northeast Regional, Michigan, by not repeating its mistakes, took the driver’s seat to get there.
To accomplish their goals, the Wolverines had no choice. Getting to St. Paul was never the pipe dream some thought. It was an expectation Pearson and this team had for itself from the start.
As sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne stated confidently back in September, Michigan was going to “come out as the underdog and finish on top.”
It’s hard to find a more accurate characterization of this season. The Wolverines were underestimated. They worked hard, fixed errors and rose to the occasion. Repeat. And on the biggest stage so far this past weekend, this trend continued, as they outlasted two hot teams that both had a leg up with home-state advantage.
Michigan hockey is headed to the final destination. No longer can it be overlooked by the spotlight that has been placed on other teams all season.
Yeah, maybe it will take a bit of luck. But a national title lies in plain sight, and the Wolverines have the capacity to take it.