It’s no surprise the Michigan hockey team has thrown around the word “focus” over and over again with all the distractions surrounding this weekend’s CCHA playoffs at Joe Louis Arena.
There’s the “academy-award-style” ceremony.
The national media attention.
And of course, the conference-playoff championship on the line.
“We’re hungry,” sophomore Chris Summers said. “We’re definitely hungry. We haven’t won anything since our seniors were freshmen so this is going to be a big weekend, a chance for us to try and capitalize on something that people remember and is going to go up in our rink.”
The Wolverines have already added two banners to the Yost Ice Arena rafters this season. Whether it’s been the Great Lakes Invitational or the CCHA regular-season title, Michigan has collected titles by setting goals and then accomplishing them.
Next on the plate: Winning Friday and hoisting a trophy in Detroit Saturday. Last night’s CCHA award banquet was just a side spectacle for the players and coaches.
“I see it as a distraction,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We’re social, but you can’t really relax. You have a big game the next night (and) the other team is sitting in the same building.”
For Michigan, that “other team” is the big-hitting, tight-checking, shot-blocking Northern Michigan Wildcats (12-13-3 CCHA, 19-19-4 overall). The last time Michigan (20-4-4, 29-5-4) faced the Wildcats, it came away with just two points after a pair of 3-3 ties.
Michigan took a lead in both games, which came between a pair of matchups against powerhouses Michigan State and Miami (Ohio). Each time, the Wolverines squandered the early advantage, letting the Wildcats sneak up on them.
“That’s not like our team,” associate head coach Mel Pearson said. “Maybe at that point in the season we didn’t know a lot about them or give them the credit they deserved. If anything, it’s helped our team realize they’re a good hockey club.”
“I think we’re more focused now,” Summers said. “Obviously these games have a little bit more value to them, so I think the team focus is much more intense.”
Lineup adjustments: Still not feeling 100 percent at practice this week after fracturing his fibula, freshman Matt Rust is likely out for the weekend. Freshman Carl Hagelin will once again replace him at center. . Freshman Max Pacioretty is suspended for tonight’s game after receiving a game disqualification for fighting during the second period against Nebraska-Omaha last Saturday. The first-liner will return to the lineup Saturday.
Picking up the hardware: Not surprisingly, Michigan cleaned up at last night’s CCHA awards banquet. Senior captain Kevin Porter took home the biggest individual prize: Player of the Year. He is the third Wolverine to win the award. Brendan Morrison and David Oliver previously won the award.
Pacioretty won Rookie of the Year honors. He led all freshmen with 28 points in 25 CCHA games.
Berenson was named the Coach of the Year for leading his young squad to the conference regular-season crown and the nation’s No. 1 ranking. Berenson last won the award in 1994.