Michael Florek: Why North Dakota will be too much for the Wolverines

By Michael Florek, Daily Sports Editor
Published April 6, 2011

Michigan coach Red Berenson made the analogy this week that his team’s Frozen Four matchup against No. 1 seed North Dakota was a David vs. Goliath matchup. It’s not.

And that’s exactly the problem.

The Wolverines are the underdog, they know it. Nearly everybody that talked to the media over the last two weeks has mentioned it. It should make you feel good. If you’ve ever read John U. Bacon’s book on Michigan hockey, Blue Ice, you know that the Wolverines win the national title almost exclusively when they’re not supposed to win it.

But this year, Michigan isn’t a No. 4 seed. It was a win or two away from being the last No. 1 seed in the tournament. The Wolverines are a senior-laden team. They belong in this game.

If there were ever a time you secretly expected that this team was going to exceed your expectations, it’s this season (if you understood that the first time you read it congratulations, you beat me). It’s happened all year long.

Michigan understands this.

Berenson is probably the most honest person you will ever come across. Every day after practice, Berenson sits in the same chair in the coach’s lounge, next to various championship trophies and answers the same questions from the media — as honest as can be.

If there’s one group of people you should tell white lies and half truths to, it’s the media.

So is he — or anybody else for that matter — really going to walk into that locker room and believably play the the-only-people-who-believe-we-can-win-this-game-are-in-this-room card or the nobody-respects-us card?

And how do underdogs win games?

“I think they have an attitude,” Berenson said. “They have a desperate attitude and I don’t know if our team has that. I hope we have it by game time. If we don’t have it we’re probably not going to play like an underdog.”

Underdogs win one of two ways. The first is having an emotional edge. The Fighting Sioux respect the Wolverines. Michigan’s “desperate attitude” won’t be significantly more intense than North Dakota’s. The Sioux haven’t won a national title in 11 years and have seven seniors themselves — the same number as Michigan.

The other way is doing one thing better than the favorite and then having that one thing dictate the game. The Wolverines don’t have that. North Dakota is like that one prick in high school who one-ups everything you do (in a hypothetical situation of course, I’m not speaking from experience or anything).

Michigan has the defense, and defense wins championships. Well the Fighting Sioux give up less.

Shawn Hunwick wasn’t even supposed to be the starter, now he’s CCHA goalie of the year. Michigan will have goodwill on its side. North Dakota goaltender Aaron Dell wasn’t supposed to start this season either. He leads the nation in goals against.

I haven’t even mentioned that the Sioux put up over four goals a game or that they have six players over 35 points — Michigan has one.

The Wolverines aren’t David, VCU or the Mighty Ducks playing Iceland in D-2.

They’re above being an underdog. They’re a team that’s just good enough for people to believe in and opponents to respect but not good enough to beat a No. 1 seed when both are playing at their best.

If I’m wrong, send me the hate mail. I’ll try to respond in-between whistles of the national title game.

—Florek will be handling the trivia on the live blog Thursday night. He can be reached at florekmi@umich.edu.