April 5, 2023
by Josh Taubman and Spencer Raines
When you think of championship hockey, what’s the first place that comes to mind?
Toronto? Minnesota? Boston? Nova Scotia?
All great choices, but all wrong. Obviously, we’re talking about Tampa Bay. OK, we know what you’re probably thinking:
“Guys, Tampa Bay isn’t even a city, it’s just a metropolitan area.”
And while you may be right about that, it doesn’t mean that it can’t play host to some good old fashioned single elimination hockey with literally everything riding on it.
Michigan is back in the Frozen Four trying to win its first national championship since 1998. This is actually the Wolverines eighth trip to the Frozen Four since then, although they’ve come up empty handed the last seven trips.
First year head coach Brandon Narato has surpassed expectations, but winning a title would cement him as an instant legend.
Legacies are on the line in Tampa. Will Michigan finally bring it home? Or like football or gymnastics or field hockey or basically any other sport, will the Wolverines come up short?
There’s only one way to find out, as their final push for a title begins against Quinnipiac on Thursday.
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Michigan gymnastics had been a juggernaut all season. The idea that it wouldn’t even qualify for nationals after all the success it had enjoyed felt misguided.
But on Sunday night, after an uncharacteristic performance, the Wolverines were left with a premature season’s end and bad taste in their mouth.
It was clear things were off from the beginning;
“Before the No. 3 Michigan women’s gymnastics team could even get going, senior Gabby Wilson fell on the second routine of the team’s first rotation,” Daily sports editor Lily Israel writes. “With an uncharacteristic fall on bars, Wilson, and the Wolverines’ hopes, were already on the ground. And that’s just about where they would stay — no matter how hard the team fought.”
For Michigan, its fall from grace was a heartbreaking end to a season filled with promise.
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For most of the Michigan roster, the Spring Game was a spectacle. Many players had a chance to don maize and blue color rush uniforms and show out at the Big House. Donovan Edwards and Blake Corum showed off their coaching chops on the sideline. J.J. McCarthy picked up right where he left off in the Fiesta Bowl, throwing an interception on his first drive but later connecting for a touchdown. (Hmm, sounds familiar)
But the star of the show was Peyton O’Leary. The junior wide receiver and former walk-on erupted with six catches for 126 yards. He sealed his performance with a game-winning two-point conversion catch to seal a 22-21 win for Team Maize.
O’Leary’s performance stunned the Michigan faithful — but it came as no surprise to him.
“Saturday’s Spring Game served as the culmination of more than two years of grinding for the right to play on game days,” Managing Sports Editor Connor Earegood writes. “While there’s still five months until he can try to cash in on that dream yet again, what he did on one rainy Saturday in April could put him in position to get on the field this fall.”
Playing time is hard to come by on the Wolverines roster, especially if you’re not a highly rated recruit coming in. But, as alternate universe Michigan legend Kevin Garnett once said, “Anything is possible.” O’Leary’s performance on Saturday showed that he might just have a case to be out there chasing down J.J. McCarthy pick-sixes this fall.
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In the college lacrosse world, Michigan is still a newbie. The Wolverines, only in their 12th season in program history, have faced a difficult road trying to establish themselves as worthy competition for the top teams.
On Saturday, Michigan took a huge step toward proving its legitimacy.
“This historic win was monumental for the team,” Daily Sports Writer Alina Levine explains, “Marking their first-ever win against Maryland in program history — and their first Big Ten win against a top-five ranked team ever.”
The last couple seasons have been rough for the Wolverines. They went 3-9 in 2021 and 7-8 in 2022 with a winless performance in conference play. This year, however, already had signs of growth as Michigan was tied in the fourth quarter against then-No. 1 Virginia and then-No. 8 Johns Hopkins. But those grueling matches ended in losses. Against the Terrapins, the Wolverines finally broke through.
They jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the first quarter in College Park and never looked back, ending up with a 16-11 victory. When the final buzzer sounded, they poured out onto the field in celebration.
Read all the details about this historic upset — and where Michigan goes from here.
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After the departure of former Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich — whose tenure in Ann Arbor was a success by most accounts — the Wolverines found themselves in a tricky position.
Bakich was successful with Michigan. He led it to a national runner-up finish in 2019 and seemed to bring the Wolverines into contention on a yearly basis. But after a handful of disappointing seasons since that run to the title game in 2019, things seemed to have stagnated. That was only reinforced when Bakich left Michigan to coach Clemson this past offseason. And that’s also when the Wolverines hired Tracy Smith to lead their program. But where does Smith fit in?
“It’s not quite a restoration: Under Erik Bakich, the Wolverines became a formidable Big Ten contender with an uncanny knack for postseason magic,” Daily Sports Writer Jared Greenspan writtes. “It’s not quite a revival, either: Michigan won the Big Ten Tournament last year, making its third straight NCAA Regional. But it’s also not strictly maintenance: Things were good at Michigan, but not good enough to keep the status quo. A few underwhelming regular seasons left everyone hungry for more.”
Now, after a slow start to the 2023 season, Michigan and Smith are starting to find their groove. So, if you want to hear more about what that could mean for Smith and the future of Wolverines’ baseball, we suggest you read this piece.
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Current record: 18 wins – 20 losses – 0 outstanding
This Week’s Menu
Appetizer (A bite-sized bet to cleanse the pallet of last week’s losses)
Minnesota -1.5 (+130) v. Boston University (Men’s college hockey)
The Big Ten has RUN college hockey this year with Bob Motzko and his Golden Gophers leading the charge. Expect that trend to continue because, well, just trust us. This will hit. We promise.
Main Course (Our meatiest — and most confident — bet)
Michigan -1.5 (+160) v. Quinnipiac (Men’s college hockey)
Quinnipiac goaltender Yaniv Peters has the best goals against average in the country, allowing just 1.46 goals per game. Michigan has the highest scoring offense in the country, averaging 4.22 goals per game. Something’s gotta give.
They say defense wins championships. But we say Adam Fantilli wins championships. Bet on the Wolverines to move on.
Dessert (Not everyone has room for it, but if you have the appetite the results could be sweet)
Michigan to win the National Championship +250
Enough said. The Wolverines party like it’s ‘98.
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