Never underestimate the power of humiliation. Never doubt the effect that it can have on a team”s psyche. Never think you”re better than you are.
This is what I was thinking at about 9:30 p.m. Friday night. Sitting in the Yost Ice Arena stands, I watched Dwight Helminen score Michigan”s fifth goal of the night and realized that Michigan”s success in the first game of the two-game series with Alaska-Fairbanks might hurt it in the second.
My fears were compounded about a minute later when Jed Ortmeyer made it 6-0.
Ortmeyer would score again, ending a joke of a hockey game at 7-0. But the Nanooks got the last laugh, taking a 3-1 decision from Michigan on Saturday night.
Haven”t we seen this before?
It happened against Fairbanks last year, when Michigan won 8-0 on Friday night only to lose 5-2 Saturday. Michigan beat Notre Dame 9-0 in the teams” first meeting last year. The two teams tied 4-4 the next time out.
To win a game 2-0 demonstrates a defensive prowess that most teams envy. It shows an opponent”s complete inability to touch your team. In 60 minutes, they didn”t put the puck in the net once. Not even once, by accident.
Similarly, an 8-6 win shows a remarkable ability to light the lamp. To score eight goals in one game means that your opponent”s defense is so out of whack that a few of your scores were probably flukes.
Still, a team that gives up just two goals will usually win, as will a team that scores six.
But to lose 8-0, or 9-0 or 7-0 shows a complete inability to compete. Not only could your team not score, but it also let the opponent take it behind the woodshed, giving up a goal every eight minutes or so.
Humiliation has gone a long way for Alaska-Fairbanks so far this season. The team that was picked to finish last in the conference preseason poll was ranked No. 14 in the nation coming into this Michigan series.
No, the Nanooks don”t shy away from competition or pressure. Rather, they see it as chance to prove something else to the world an opportunity to ascend even higher, despite the fact that their heights will forever be below college hockey”s radar.
I wasn”t in Fairbanks” lockerroom after Friday night”s game, so I can”t possibly know what was said. But the vision in my head is of a lot of down heads until one player I”m not sure who stood up and let his teammates know that they could not allow themselves to be pushed around anymore.
And upstairs in Michigan”s lockerroom, I see that team telling itself not to take the Nanooks lightly the next night. But let”s be serious. When you beat a team 7-0, you”re just not going to take them seriously the next night.
If what happened had been an anomaly, it would be easy to discount it. So Michigan lost a game. It happens.
But since the start of last season, Michigan has three times scored seven or more goals on a Friday night. Each time, it”s lost the next night.
Any coach would ream out a player who, after winning a game decisively, talked trash to the opponent. Michigan is famous for holding post-game press conferences at which nothing remotely newsworthy is said, because the coaches are terrified of saying something that gives the opponent any extra motivation.
In my mind, demolishing a team on the ice is no different than telling the media what you really think about your opponent. With 10 minutes left Friday night, the Nanooks were so demoralized they couldn”t beat five students on the ice and a Deker in goal. But Michigan still poured on two more goals.
I”m not going to say that Michigan should stop playing after it scores five goals. That”s stupid you need to go all out.
But if you”re going to give it everything, you need to do it every time out. If you”re brash enough to kick a team while its down, which Michigan surely did Friday night, you”d better be ready to face the cavalry Saturday night.
Jon Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com.