As the final buzzer blared at the Schottenstein Center two Saturdays ago, Michigan concluded its regular season.
Another season in the books, and where do the Wolverines stand?
Second in the CCHA, but only thanks to Miami (Ohio)’s loss.
Ranked 12th in the country.
18-9-1 in the CCHA, 23-12-1 overall.
And, numbers aside, almost exactly where they were last year.
That’s not a good thing, considering last season has become a measuring stick for the kind of mediocrity the Michigan program desperately wants to avoid.
The paths were different, but the result was the same. Last season it was a hot start followed by a downward spiral. This time, it kicked off with inconsistency and underachieving, pushed away by a steadily successful stint that carried into February.
But then came the final leg of the journey, the real implosion. A loss to CCHA doormat Bowling Green. A tie – that should have been a win – with then-No. 6 Michigan State, Michigan’s only ranked opponent in the second half of the season. A split with Lake Superior State. A split with Ohio State.
And we’re back where we started.
“You hate to finish off on a note like tonight,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said following the 6-5 loss to the Buckeyes.
It was a sour note, for sure. Ohio State tallied the game-winner with 1:30 remaining. Fights broke out all over the ice. Senior captain Matt Hunwick jumped in the melee and he didn’t even know what started it.
Now the real fight has to begin, the fight to put the past away and regain Michigan’s dignity – starting now, in the postseason.
The Wolverines may be hovering in the same position as last year. Fans are wondering which team they’re going to see each night – a strong squad with a prolific offense or a wobbly group with a porous defense?
But these guys can set themselves apart. They’ve matured and are better than last year – they’re even better than they’ve showed this year.
Every hockey fan knows the clich