The last time the Michigan hockey team won a game, the Wolverines were the third-ranked team in the nation, the football team was headed towards a late season slide after losing to Iowa and I was not passing Spanish.

Now, more than three weeks later, Michigan has tumbled all the way down to 19th in the rankings, the football team beat Ohio State and my Spanish grade es bueno, gracias.

Michigan will travel an ungodly amount of miles this weekend to play Alaska-Fairbanks and try to snap its six-game winless streak. The Nanooks are coming off two shutout victories in a row, but they were against lowly Bowling Green. The hardest part about playing Fairbanks (3-7-2 CCHA, 6-8-2 overall) is not the team, but the travel.

But it doesn’t matter who Michigan (3-5-2, 7-7-2) is playing anymore.

The issue isn’t the other team.

Senior forward Greg Pateryn has said that if this team is running on all cylinders, it’s unbeatable. He might be exaggerating, but to a certain extent, he’s right. Michigan has one of the best goaltenders in the nation in Shawn Hunwick, one of the most exciting young players in all of college hockey in Phil Di Giuseppe and one of the most respected coaches at any level in Red Berenson.

This is a team that should have no problem making the NCAA Tournament for the 22nd consecutive season. It’s not the most talented team Berenson has ever coached, but it’s good enough to make some noise in the tournament.

But the thing that the Wolverines are missing right now is something that Berenson can’t coach. He can coach the penalty kill, the faceoffs and the line changes, but he can’t teach passion.

Michigan’s issues aren’t talent-based. They are based off the one lesson, the most important lesson, that every kid hears on day one. It’s the lesson of hustle, hard work and grittiness. It’s the lesson of not getting outworked by anyone, anywhere, because the minute you stop working is the minute you let the other team into the game.

The Wolverines haven’t won a game since Nov. 5 because they haven’t played like a team that wants to win. They aren’t doing the little things — digging the puck out of the corner, hustling out of line changes and flying to loose pucks — that all teams, even talented ones, have to do to sustain success.

In some respects, it would be easier for Berenson if he could point to the defense, the special teams or the goaltending and definitively say, “This is what we need to work on.”

If it were that easy, junior forward Chris Brown wouldn’t walk into a press conference with his head in his hands, mimicking the pose that senior captain Luke Glendening struck a week earlier. If Michigan’s problems were an easy fix, there wouldn’t be much of a concern.

Berenson has had teams in the past that have looked like locks to break the NCAA Tournament streak. Two years ago, the Wolverines finished seventh in the CCHA and were relying on the walk-on Hunwick to win the CCHA Tournament and keep the streak alive.

That team had no business making the tournament, but they did. That team had what my high school football coach called “want-to.” They wanted to win more than anything else, and did whatever it took to become team No. 20.

This team doesn’t have that — yet. Berenson and the older players know it, but you can only teach so much. You can’t teach want-to, that has to come from within.

“We have to work harder,” Brown said. “I know that’s cliché and we’ve been saying it for the past three weeks, but that’s how it has to be. We can’t do anything different. It’s not systems, our goalie, or coaching. … It’s not nothing. It’s just the will to want to win a game. And right now we don’t have it.”

On Union’s second goal of the game in Sunday’s 6-3 blowout, freshman defenseman Brennan Seville tried to clear the puck by taking his man one-on-one. The puck was stolen from him, but then he stopped skating, turned around and watched Dutchman forward Kevin Sullivan skate uncontested towards the net. Hunwick never had a chance.

Those type of plays aren’t skill or talent. Those type of plays are pure hustle, something any player is capable of doing.

Those are the types of plays that decide games.

“It’s time to grow up and play like a man,” Brown said. “It’s time to start playing hockey. Michigan hockey, and this is not Michigan hockey.”

You can never count a team out. Not in November and not at Michigan.

But the Wolverines are dangerously close to being the first team in 21 years to miss the NCAA Tournament. Yes they are young, and yes it’s early, but this team has no drive right now. The schedule is only going to get tougher.

Michigan is missing something that can’t be coached. If the players don’t find it soon, they’ll be on the outside looking in, despite riding high with the No. 1 ranking just over a month ago.

In the last month, something was lost in translation — just like my Spanish skills.

— Cook can be reached at evcook@umich.edu or on Twitter @everettcook

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