New Year’s resolutions aren’t really meant to be kept.
Setting goals and then brushing them off a week or two into the new year has become a normalized routine for many. So has reciting the punchline: “There’s always next year.”
While some people eventually do achieve their goals, others are left to wonder if they ever will.
The latter scenario must have been how the Michigan hockey and men’s basketball teams felt at this time last year.
On the second weekend of January in 2017, the Wolverines faced off against No. 9 Minnesota in Mariucci Arena, where they hadn’t secured a series sweep since 1977. But 40 years later, with a chance to reignite its season on the line, Michigan was swept instead.
And on a January afternoon in 2017, the Wolverines took on Michigan State at the Breslin Center, where they had only won once in their past seven attempts. But with a bitter rivalry in the balance, Michigan suffered yet another loss.
After the Golden Gophers skated them off the Olympic-sized ice and the Spartans ran them out of the packed building, the Wolverines diverged into two different paths.
The hockey team stumbled through the final two months of the year and ultimately finished with one of their worst seasons in recent years, missing out on the NCAA Tournament in former coach Red Berenson’s final year at the helm of the program. The men’s basketball team, on the other hand, exacted revenge at Crisler Center just nine days later, blowing out Michigan State by nearly 30 points and going on to win the Big Ten Tournament and advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tourney.
Still, Michigan’s New Year’s resolutions remained unfulfilled, and the Wolverines weren’t sure how long they would have to wait for them to be realized. As it turns out, that would be all of one year.
On the second weekend of January in 2018, the Wolverines headed back to Mariucci Arena to face still-No. 9 Minnesota. Sitting at 27th in the Pairwise rankings — well out of contention for the NCAA Tournament — they had an uphill battle awaiting them up north.
The bus ride to the first game of the series was understandably quiet. The pressure could have turned the Wolverines into a diamond or dust. They chose the former.
It took just 14 seconds for Michigan to find the back of the net, and the blitz was on. Four more goals followed that night, and three more came the night after. Minnesota could muster just four over both nights in response.
“They’re typically not a very physical team, so we just came in with the mindset that we were going to outwork them, outmuscle them,” said sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne after Saturday’s game. “And that’s what we did both nights.”
With 5-3 and 3-1 victories, the Wolverines took home the elusive series sweep in Minneapolis.
“They had only lost two games here all year at Minnesota, so to come and get a sweep is huge,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “And we earned it.”
They also jumped up 12 spots to a tie for No. 15 in Pairwise with none other than the Golden Gophers. Given that the top-16 are usually selected for the NCAA Tournament, Michigan will have a much more favorable position come tourney time if it can sustain its momentum.
The same could be said for the Wolverines on the court.
On a January afternoon in 2018, Michigan traveled back to the Breslin Center to take on No. 4 Michigan State. After a heartbreaking 70-69 loss to No. 5 Purdue earlier in the week, the Wolverines’ challenging stretch went up a few notches in difficulty.
It didn’t help that the status of junior forward Moritz Wagner was up in the air after he re-tweaked his ankle injury. But not only was he there Saturday, he was everywhere.
Wagner scored a career-high 27 points in 27 minutes and, on several occasions, made his Spartan defender look silly. But he didn’t do it alone, as sophomore guard Zavier Simpson, senior guard Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman and redshirt sophomore forward Charles Matthews scored 16, 14 and 10 points, respectively. Michigan State, which had been the top-ranked team in the nation two weeks ago, had no answer.
“We have a confident group of guys,” Matthews said. “I don’t think anyone is scared of the moment. Nobody is soft or anything like that. If anything, sometimes we get too thirsty. Today, we were just relaxed.”
With that mindset on full display in an 82-72 win, Michigan brought home the rivalry victory in East Lansing.
“We always say that all we need is what we have in this room,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “… I think us being so close as a team helps us go into tough environments like Michigan State and other places on the road. … It’s us against the world.”
It also entered the Associated Press Top 25 poll at No. 23 for the first time this season, and is now projected to be a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. That would be its highest position since 2014, which was the season after the Wolverines finished as the national runner-up.
More often than not, people use the phrase, “there’s always next year,” about their New Year’s resolutions as a joke because they know the cycle will continue, for however many years it takes.
But for the Michigan hockey and men’s basketball teams in 2018, that wasn’t the case.
What a difference a year makes.
Ashame can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @betelhem_ashame.