At CCHA Media Day in September, the Michigan hockey team was picked to finish fourth in the conference.
A lot has changed in 183 days.
The Wolverines, winners of both the regular-season and conference tournament championships, have been one of the biggest surprises in college hockey. And the national pundits aren’t the only ones scratching their heads at Michigan’s run to the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“No way,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson when asked if he could’ve predicted his team’s success. “I wouldn’t have believed that. I’m always an optimist, and I always think our team is probably better than it is, but there’s no way. There were so many question marks.”
Berenson cited almost every facet of the game – goalkeeping, offense, defense and youth – as uncertainties.
But in the conference playoff championship last Saturday against Miami (Ohio), the Wolverines proved yet again that Berenson had nothing to worry about.
The defense and netminder Billy Sauer stifled the most potent offense in the nation. The offense took advantage of its chances. And the team’s freshmen played well beyond their experience.
But none of that’s new.
Week in and week out, Michigan has brought its A-game to the ice, and Berenson knows that dedication has been the catalyst to the Wolverines’ many successes.
“We didn’t win this first seed necessarily this weekend,” Berenson said. “I told them they won it in October, November, December. They won it on the road at Northern (Michigan) and Lake State, Nebraska (Omaha) and Miami. They paid their dues and have gone through a tough season. I can’t remember a Michigan team having a tougher schedule. And look what they did with it.”
After the Wolverines toppled Miami in the championship, all of that hard work finally came full circle.
Once the team arrived back at Yost Ice Arena, Berenson pulled his team in for a speech that senior alternate captain Chad Kolarik will remember for a long time.
“I’ve never seen him that excited, that’s for sure,” Kolarik said. “He’s been all smiles this year. It’s been a lot different than my first three years here. My freshman year was pretty good, but we were expected to do a lot. The past two years, we let him down.”
It was evident by Berenson’s beaming smile after the Wolverines’ tournament title that the coach is proud of this squad’s accomplishments. But he’s not ready to reflect on the season just yet.
With four games between Michigan and its first national championship since 1998, Berenson wants to keep his team focused.
“This has been an amazing season, really,” Berenson said. “But I don’t want to look back and enjoy it now, because it’s not over. We need to make the most of it now. This is the best part.”