A lot has changed since the seniors on the Michigan hockey team arrived in Ann Arbor before the start of the 2013-14 season. The Wolverines entered that year ranked No. 10 in the country, and though their 22-year NCAA Tournament streak had ended the year before, the nine freshmen who entered had aspirations of adding to the storied history of the program.
Now, after three of their classmates moved on to the NHL, just six seniors remain. And with this weekend marking the last regular-season games of the season, forwards Evan Allen, Alex Kile, Max Shuart, defensemen Nolan De Jong and Kevin Lohan and goaltender Zach Nagelvoort are facing their final opportunities to play at Yost Ice Arena.
“It’s exciting in a weird way,” Nagelvoort said. “I don’t really know the right word for it. It’s exciting that we have a chance to play Penn State … I think that’s really the focus in the room: playing Penn State on the weekend, not necessarily the Senior Night aspect of it. We’ll experience that after the game on Saturday. It’s not like a leading-into-the-game kind of thing.
“I know I love playing here at Yost, so I’m going to just enjoy my last two times playing here. I’m sure I’ll be a mess after the game, but we’ll see when I get there.”
As Nagelvoort says, Michigan isn’t emphasizing Senior Night heavily at all. Instead, the Wolverines’ focus is on winning the games remaining and trying to rally some momentum before playing in the Big Ten Tournament.
“We don’t do much,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We do (Senior Night) after the game, where some teams have a hurried presentation before the game, and we don’t do that. … We don’t make a big deal of it in the locker room as coaches. We’ve tried it in the past, and it doesn’t work. It doesn’t seem to relate. It relates more to the game.”
Things haven’t been easy for this particular senior class. Barring an unlikely win in the Big Ten Tournament, it will be just the third class in the last 26 seasons to participate in only one NCAA Tournament collectively.
Add that to the departure of three of their classmates — JT Compher, Tyler Motte and Michael Downing — before this season, and the six-some has seen its fair share of struggles. But with all of that, they say it has just made them closer as a group.
“With those three guys signing in the offseason, it only made us, as a class, come closer,” Kile said. “… It’s going to be different next year, and it’s going to be hard to move on, but hopefully this last couple weeks of hockey can be memorable with those guys. And as we graduate and go (down) different paths, I definitely imagine all six of us keeping in touch.”
Added Allen: “The six of us remaining here, we all live in the same house or right next door to each other. We hang out every single night and every day. So we became really close. I mean, we do everything together. … It’s been really fun, and I’m going to miss it a lot.”
This season alone has been trying enough for the Wolverines and their seniors, as they are on track to have the program’s worst record in 30 years. But the individual players are used to dealing with tough situations. After all, when this season is over, their legacy may be their ability to fight through trying times to make contributions on the ice.
“The one thing that’s happened to every one of them, they’ve all run into adversity,” Berenson said. “On the ice, they’ve all had trouble finding their way at one time or another. … And yet now they’re all contributing players, and they’re all graduating, and I’m glad they are.”