There are different kinds of Senior Nights.
Last season, the Michigan men’s hockey team’s felt like an ending. Sure, the Wolverines beat Penn State that night, but the season was one of the worst in Michigan’s history.
There wasn’t much more hockey to be played for last season’s team.
This season’s Senior Night was a bit different. In a rebound year where the 13th-ranked Wolverines (11-10-3 Big Ten, 18-13-3 overall) are on the brink of an NCAA Tournament bid, they took care of Arizona State, 5-3.
The series could be described more as a speed bump than a full-blown obstacle in Michigan’s path to postseason play.
The Wolverines, like they did Friday, got out to a huge lead.
Sophomore forward Cooper Marody started things just over 10 minutes into the game. He took a lead pass from junior defenseman Joseph Cecconi and skated around the entire Arizona State defense, deked out the goaltender and put it squarely in the back of the net.
Again, just like Friday, Michigan scored three goals in a row after that. Senior defenseman Sam Piazza fired a slapshot through a crowd on the power play to make it 2-0. Sophomore forward Adam Winborg opted to take the puck himself on a 2-on-1 opportunity, ripping it to the bottom left corner to make it 3-0. Then senior forward Tony Calderone took a breakaway opportunity coast-to-coast to make it 4-0.
The similarities between the weekend’s games didn’t end there. Friday, the Wolverines let the Sun Devils crawl within a goal thanks to some bad penalties.
Saturday, the Wolverines gave up two consecutive goals — one on the power play — to Arizona State’s Johnny Walker.
That was as close as the Sun Devils would get, though. Calderone and the Sun Devils’ Filips Buncis traded goals late in the third period to reach the final tally.
“Tough weekend,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “I give our guys a lot of credit. It’s a sandwich weekend — you go from Notre Dame to the Big Ten Tournament, and in between, you’ve got this non-conference series. We knew it would be tough as coaches, but I think our guys did a good job overall getting the win tonight.”
Then the lights went down, and the seniors were honored. Tears were shed, as usual, and the crowd gave thanks for the hard work the seniors — Calderone, Piazza, forwards Dexter Dancs, Alex Roos and Niko Porikos and defenseman Cutler Martin — have put in.
But it wasn’t the last game of this season that’s begun to show some promise. In fact, it’s not even the last game they’ll play at Yost Ice Arena.
“Once or twice, once we got up, I probably looked up in the crowd a little bit and was like, ‘Alright, take this in. It’s a special night,’ ” Martin said. “But we have a lot more hockey to play. We have more hockey next weekend, and, hopefully following that even at Yost.”
Added Pearson: “We have our senior celebration tomorrow for our seniors, our banquet. It’s the first time we’ve done that. But it’ll be fun walking in there after a good weekend and knowing we have some hockey left. But you have to balance that. You enjoy the moment.
“This is a bonus now. This is bonus hockey. … If you’re fortunate enough to get in the big dance, anything can happen.”
Michigan will host Wisconsin next weekend in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. After that, the Wolverines could return to the NCAA Tournament.
That’s why this Senior Night felt different.
There’s a lot of important hockey still to come.