When the No. 2 Michigan hockey team’s Olympians — Owen Power, Kent Johnson, Matty Beniers and Brendan Brisson — competed in Beijing, China, both Team Canada and Team USA lost in the quarterfinal round. And being eliminated from the tournament, it left a bitter taste in their mouths.
Luckily for them, they’ll get that chance when the Wolverines play in their own elimination games.
“They should come back with some confidence after playing in (the Olympics)” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “But you also should come back with ‘Hey, I got something to prove. I got something to prove to these guys in here that I’m ready to come back and I’ll play for Michigan.’”
That chip on the Olympians’ shoulders should help them continue their dominant seasons. The four rejoin the Wolverines during a hot stretch led by key depth contributions.
But there’s a problem: they haven’t been in the lineup.
They’ll have to adjust to the college game again with minimal chances to warm up before postseason play begins. That’s not new for them — they adjusted rapidly to the Olympics during round robin play — but its proximity to the end of the season could also leave them running out of time to prepare for a long postseason run.
Then again, that limited time could add make the most of that extra motivation. It’s a lot easier to turn a setback into success when those wounds are still bleeding. And with championships on the line from here on out, the Olympians have a chance to do just that.
“Hopefully they don’t have any problem getting motivation for these last games, and I know they don’t,” fifth-year senior forward Mike Pastujov said. “But they definitely want to get back on the right track of winning and being on the right side of the game.”
It’s important to note the skill difference between the NCAA and the Olympic teams. All four Olympians shined against professionals and other top juniors, scoring goals and logging big minutes to help their teams win.
Power led Canada in ice time, while Johnson tied as its top scorer. Beniers led American forwards in ice time and Brisson scored two goals in limited ice time.
Learning how to play a few steps above the NCAA gives them an edge against the college teams they face from here on out. And while it’s likely the Olympians will continue their success, now there’s an added urgency.
It’s likely Michigan will go deep in the Big Ten tournament, and the NCAA Tournament awaits soon after. After proclaiming its goal all season to win a national championship, the Wolverines will get their shot in a little over a month.
All four will play key roles in that run — despite Michigan’s success without them — and that could determine how far the Wolverines go. They make up its best line, log its best defensive minutes and create its top power play unit.
In the meantime, they can practice for that run against Notre Dame this weekend, the only Big Ten team Michigan hasn’t beaten even with its Olympians in the lineup. Winning those games and clinching the top seed in the Big Ten tournament would be a good start toward redemption.
The four Wolverines can’t go back and replay the Olympics, but they can use that loss as motivation from here on out.
If it goes their way, they could be holding different medals come April.