The year was 1994, and the New York Rangers unexpectedly trailed their rival New Jersey Devils in the NHL’s Eastern Conference Finals, 3-2. Legendary center Mark Messier netted three goals in the third period to send the series to a Game 7, and later to a Stanley Cup victory.
What does this have to do with Michigan hockey, you ask?
The Rangers were favored to win that series after an incredible regular season that saw them streaking to the playoffs, yet found themselves in dire straits with the entire year in jeopardy.
The No. 20 Michigan hockey team (7-9-2 Big Ten, 12-12-2 overall) isn't in such a dissimilar spot.
After two consecutive weekend sweeps against now-No.12 Minnesota and No. 17 Penn State, it seemed the only way for the Wolverines to go was up.
Michigan finally found its starting goalkeeper in sophomore Hayden Lavigne, who was putting up monstrous numbers in front of the net, and it appeared that the front and back lines had finally clicked as a cohesive unit on both sides of the puck.
But the storyline has changed following two straight losses to then-No. 6 Ohio State, in which the Wolverines were systematically shut down.
Michigan experienced an abysmal weekend due to a lackluster power play, a defensive effort that simply wasn’t good enough and offensive stagnation.
“It’s obviously a bad feeling when you get swept,” said junior forward Cooper Marody. “I think there some things that we liked over the weekend, but Ohio State’s an incredible team and if you make one turnover, it’s gonna end up in the back of your net. So I think it was good for us to have that wake-up call.”
But if Messier’s miracle can tell us anything, it’s that anything can happen, a fact the Wolverines are well aware of.
“We still control our own destiny,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson.
He added: “Never get too high when you’re winning and you’re on a roll, and never too low when things don’t go your way. (And) you need to because you don’t have much time, we have to move on and prepare for Wisconsin.”
In the Wolverines’ rout of the Nittany Lions on Jan. 19, freshman forward Jack Becker scored twice, and junior forward Brendan Warren added a tally as well. Standout freshman forward Josh Norris also added onto the offensive effort with a goal.
The early Michigan offense revolved around Marody and seniors Tony Calderone and Dexter Dancs. While the trio continues to dominate statistically, the burden now lies on the rest of the players on the ice.
“It’s tough when people rely on people to score goals and it’s easy to think ‘Oh, they’re not playing well because they’re not scoring,’ ” Marody said. “But sometimes the puck doesn’t go in the net and you’ll have a game where you might not earn the goals that you get, but you have three points at the end of the night.
“And some games you really think you earned it and you worked your butt off and had one of the best games, but you had no points. So that’s just how the game works.”
The Wolverines are clearly at the crux of their season. As Marody mentioned, all of Michigan’s lines are grinding on the ice for goals.
Sophomore defenseman Luke Martin, sophomore forward Jake Slaker and freshman forward Michael Pastujov all have the potential to be strong point-generators.
In Happy Valley, Michigan saw what could happen when the whole team-offense mentality comes alive. After the Buckeyes, there now just seems to be a missing factor that will help the Wolverines mine those extra points from their non-headliner players.
And if they do strike gold, they just might have their Messier moment.