The team busses were parked outside Yost Ice Arena Monday, ready to take the Wolverines straight to the airport after practice.
And while talking to the media after their afternoon skate, their minds seemed to already be in Denver.
Maybe that’s why Kevin Porter didn’t realize Monday was his last practice at Yost Ice Arena.
“You know what, I didn’t even think about it,” Porter said, half-surprised, half-laughing. “Not until you said anything.”
Porter’s last practice as a Wolverine went largely unnoticed because all year, the team has refused to look back. All season, Michigan has accepted its Cinderella story but refused to dwell on it.
It started in the first game, the win against then-No. 2 Boston College, when a team picked to be one of the best fell to a team with 12 freshmen.
It started as soon as Louie Caporusso, playing in his first game as a Wolverine, scored the game-winning goal in overtime to lift Michigan over the Eagles.
It started with a 3-1 record and a No. 3 ranking heading into the home opener.
“I don’t think any of these kids will be outstanding,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said about the freshmen at CCHA Media Day in October. “But if they’re not noticeable, then they’re playing well.”
Sixty-four freshman goals and 117 first-year assists later, it’s obvious why looking back seems a little silly.
So instead of seeing where this season at Yost began, let’s see how it ended.
It was Monday afternoon, two hours before the team boarded a chartered plane to Denver. At the end of practice, Porter stayed on the ice, shooting at third-string goalie Shawn Hunwick. He and three freshmen were the only ones left.
Porter sometimes plays best-of-seven shootouts with Hunwick after practice. But on this last day on his home ice, Porter scored just once. He stayed out a little longer and tried to be a little better, but still finished 2-for-12.
“I guess he kind of beat me today,” Porter said.
That’s probably one of the only times all season Porter could say that about someone, and he said it with a smile on his face. He didn’t have a reason to say it after his unstoppable, five-goal weekend at the NCAA Regionals in Albany. He won’t be saying it Friday night at the Hobey Baker Award ceremony.
And none of the Wolverines will be saying it Thursday night.
Why? Because this team is too focused on the game to get distracted by how well they’ve played to get to the Frozen Four. The Wolverines refused to look back at last season. They refused to buy into the hype when they were ranked first just a few weeks into the season, and they’ve refused to let themselves stop, look back and reflect on how far they’ve come.
The players went straight from the arena to the bus to the airport Monday afternoon, and like that, their season on their home ice was finished. After six months, it came so suddenly it was hard to believe until the ice was empty.
In his final Yost post-practice interview of the season, Berenson deflected a question about what the last practice meant to him by simply saying it was good to get out on the ice and have a productive practice before the trip.
Even with 24 years worth of memories and ten Frozen Four appearances, he wasn’t looking back.
And 10 minutes after most of the team had left, Porter finally came off the ice and sat on the table near the locker room stairs for the final time, wearing his light blue Michigan practice uniform.
“It’s my last time skating here, practicing here as a team,” he said, repeating what he had just realized a few seconds before.
He paused, but barely missed a beat.
There was no time for reflection.
“I guess it’s pretty sad, but it’ll be great going to Denver,” he said.
– Ratkowiak can be reached at email@example.com.