The Wolverines know that hosting an NCAA Regional makes a
difference. The last three times the road to the Frozen Four has
gone through Yost Ice Arena, the Michigan hockey team has been the
team moving on — even though it wasn’t always the
highest seed. Being at home in its own arena in front of its fans
has made the difference.

The last two years, the Wolverines pulled out three
“upsets” to make the Frozen Four.

And then there’s 1998, when the Wolverines last won the
National Championship. Michigan coach Red Berenson remembers that
year’s NCAA Regional at Yost especially well.

“We were lucky to beat Princeton one year in the first
game,” Berenson said. “And then we went on to play
North Dakota, and we played a lot better. The first game at home is
the toughest game. We were able to get through it.

“I’ve always credited our fans for making the
difference. I don’t know if we could have come from behind if
we were playing at North Dakota or some other venue. The crowd just
urged us on. It was amazing. It was like they willed us to
win.”

Captain Andy Burnes is also aware of the difference hosting the
regional has had.

“There’s the element of familiarity that you
can’t measure,” the senior defenseman said.
“It’s nice to be at your home rink with your usual
surroundings. We can do our normal pre-game routines. And of course
the fans are behind us. When everything is on the line, and you
look up and see everybody on their feet screaming for you, it
brings the best out of you.”

Now, Wolverines hope to avoid getting a taste of their own
medicine. Saturday, No. 7 Michigan (26-13-2) heads to Manchester,
N.H., to face No. 10 New Hampshire (20-14-6). Though Verizon
Wireless Arena is about an hour from New Hampshire’s campus,
the Wolverines expect support for the Wildcats to be similar to the
support they have received the last two years. Tickets for the
Northeast Regional sold out quicker than any other regional in
history.

“People in New Hampshire have really supported hockey and
college hockey especially,” New Hampshire coach Dick Umile
said. “The fans were really looking forward to seeing us in
the NCAA Tournament, and now that we’re in, the excitement is
really building.”

Playing the host of a regional instead of hosting it themselves,
the Wolverines have the mindset that they are the underdog, even
though they are seeded No. 2 and New Hampshire is the No. 3 seed.
Umile understands what Michigan is doing, but is sure that his
players don’t feel that way.

“We haven’t felt like it’s assumed that
we’re going to move on,” Umile said. “We know
better than that. Every team in the NCAA Tournament is a threat,
and every team knows not to look ahead. Fans do that, but not
teams.”

The Wildcats, who lost to Minnesota in last year’s NCAA
title game, lost six seniors from last year’s squad and have
had an up-and-down season. Their two leading scorers last season
were seniors, and this year, Steve Saviano and Sean Collins lead
the team with 48 and 41 points, respectively. Their last time out,
the Wildcats lost to Massachusetts in the semifinals of the Hockey
East Tournament.

“We’ve been playing well as of late,” Umile
said. “It’s been a year-long transition from being
ranked high all last year to being in the middle of the pack this
year.”

But now that they’re in and at home, the Wildcats are
optimistic about the weekend.

Michigan is also optimistic, though it’s for a different
reason: The Wolverines feel that getting away from home can help
them forget about the last few underachieving weeks.

“Being on the other side of this brings the team
together,” Burnes said. “It will have us focused and I
think we’ll play our best hockey yet. It’s going to be
tough of course, but we’ll be ready.”

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