Rian Ratnavale: Let it go

Thursday, October 18, 2018 - 9:28pm

Michigan coach Mel Pearson brought his team to the Frozen Four in his first year as coach.

Michigan coach Mel Pearson brought his team to the Frozen Four in his first year as coach. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

Hopefully, by now, you’ve regained your senses after the Michigan hockey team’s roller-coaster of a season last year.

The Wolverines started in the shadow of Red Berenson’s retirement and low expectations, struggled to escape the darkness until mid-January, then finished seconds away from a spot in the National Championship game. Not to mention this all happened in Michigan coach Mel Pearson’s first season running the team.

Last season certainly assured the Wolverines that rebuilding didn’t mean a long road back to relevance. On the other hand, Michigan’s 4-3 loss at the horn to Notre Dame in the Frozen Four semifinals gave the program arguably its toughest lost in recent history — and a bad taste in its mouth going into the offseason.

Pearson knows that the tables are turned this year. The Wolverines are not sneaking up on anyone anytime soon — they started this season ranked No. 4 in the country — and although they haven’t looked as sharp as one would expect a preseason top-five team to look, the target is on the Wolverines’ back. They are no longer the hunters. Michigan is the hunted.

“You’ve got something to prove still,” Pearson said.  “If you’re picked to finish lower like you were, you’re trying to prove that they were wrong and that we have a better team than whoever picks the polls. If you’re picked high, then you’re trying to prove that those people know what they’re talking about ... You have to go from they don’t know what they’re talking about to being like, ‘OK they’re right.’”

And while that umbrella covers the general expectations of a team that just made the Frozen Four, Michigan still wants to prove, at least in some ways, that “those people” don’t know quite know what they’re talking about.

On paper, much has changed from last season to now. The top-line combination of Dexter Dancs, Cooper Marody and Tony Calderone — and all 122 of its net-shredding points — are gone. But who expected anything out of them when Michigan finished 13-19-3 the season before?

Sophomore Josh Norris returned to Ann Arbor despite being a first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He could be the new offensive ringleader. Same goes for sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes, who was drafted 7th overall last season. He could surely be in the NHL right now, but he too returned with high expectations.

Junior Will Lockwood is back from a season-ending injury. Junior Nick Pastujov and his brother, sophomore Michael Pastujov, have shown flashes, albeit not for long enough to firmly establish themselves as forces quite yet. The recipe for success is not a quick one, and there may well be a lot of growing pains for the group.

Michigan seems to understand that. It’s why, even through a rough defensive start to the season and a slew of untimely turnovers, Pearson has remained level-headed about the flow of the offense, his blue line and the goaltender situation.

Success, be it over the course of a game, a season or a coaching era, is not a sprint. Even Berenson didn’t finish above .500 until his fourth season coaching the Wolverines and didn’t make a Frozen Four until his eighth. In one season behind the bench at Michigan, Pearson did both.

Reveling in their Cinderella run won’t help the Wolverines when they have to face No. 1 Ohio State, which swept them last year and hardly lost any talent. Neither will sulking about the Frozen Four defeat to Notre Dame when they first gear up against the second-ranked Fighting Irish.

Those things happened then, but this is now. Pearson and the Wolverines didn’t let poor prior expectations and following in the footsteps of a legend cloud their thoughts then, so why do the same now?

It’s time for Michigan to forget about last season, and enjoy the ride ahead.

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