By the time Kevin Porter made it back to the locker room after his team’s 2-0 win Saturday night in the NCAA East Regional final, he already had 14 messages on his cell phone.

Brian Merlos
Michigan coach Red Berenson is a candidate for the Spencer Penrose Award. (CLIF REEDER/Daily)

The senior captain received countless congratulatory calls for leading the Michigan hockey team to its first Frozen Four since 2003.

But the most important people he heard from were last year’s seniors: T.J. Hensick, Matt Hunwick, Jason Dest and Tim Cook.

Talking to last year’s graduates was especially important for Porter because they were the first class of Michigan hockey players since the class of 1991 never to make a Frozen Four.

“Dest and I joke that they finally got us off the team and now they can get back to the Frozen Four,” Cook said.

For Porter, part of this year’s accomplishments is dedicated to the group that was never able to get this far, even if it is a bit bittersweet to be there without them.

But Matt Hunwick’s little brother Shawn, one of this year’s backup goalies, can’t avoid ribbing his older brother just a little bit.

“He’s a little jealous,” Shawn Hunwick said. “He said it’s not fair I come in and I’m one-for-one right now.”

Last year’s seniors are just a part of a huge group of former players who have been in contact with the current crop of Wolverines to wish them well in Denver.

Since returning from Albany, Michigan coach Red Berenson has received a call from Bob Gassoff – a member of the 1998 NCAA Championship team – who currently serves as a Navy SEAL. Other former Wolverines who have been in touch include Cam Stewart, Brian Wiseman, Jason Botterrill and Brandon Kaleniecki.

“This is the time of year when a lot of those former players come out and wish us well and tell us to get the job done,” associate head coach Mel Pearson said.

The highest honor: Berenson was announced as a finalist for the Spencer Penrose Award on Monday night. The award is given annually to the NCAA coach of the year as selected by the American Hockey Coaches Association.

Though Berenson has won two National Championships as a coach and has led his team to a record 18 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, he has never won the Penrose award.

Many in the Michigan program are thinking this is his year.

“What he’s done not only this year, but you look at the 24 years he has been a college hockey coach, the record he has amassed and all the championships this team has won,” Pearson said. “I think it’s long overdue.”

Berenson is being considered in large part because he took a team with 11 freshmen to the Frozen Four. But the Michigan youngsters appreciate what their coach does for them on and off the ice.

“I’ve never had a better coach,” freshman Carl Hagelin said. “I learn something new everyday. It’s either about hockey or about life. He should get that award, that’s what I think.”

An early lunch: The Michigan hockey team’s annual banquet is scheduled for this Saturday. But with the Wolverines still alive in the NCAA Tournament, the timing seems a bit off.

Usually the banquet is a celebration of the season, when the graduating seniors give speeches and the next season’s captains are named.

But this year, for the first time in recent memory, it will be harder to reflect on a season whose outcome is still unknown.

“I wish they would have scheduled it after, but it’s this Saturday,” Porter said. “It’s going to be fun, but I guess it’s going to be a little different than previous years.”

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