ALBANY, N.Y. – Just 30 minutes after Michigan beat Clarkson to win the NCAA East regional, everyone seemed ready to look ahead, not back.

By then, the Times Union Center staff was hard at work covering the ice and taking down the glass of the rink where the Wolverines had clinched their spot at the Frozen Four in Denver, their first trip to college hockey’s championship weekend since 2003.

Michigan coach Red Berenson, seniors Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik and junior Billy Sauer walked into the postgame press conference in suits. If anything, they looked more stern than genial.

Of course, the arena crew had a job to do. And the team was probably reserving its true celebration for the privacy of the locker room or the chartered flight back to Ann Arbor.

For the public, it was all business.

“It’s been our goal all year to be the number one team in the nation,” Kolarik said. “So far, we’ve done a good job of protecting that spot. But it doesn’t matter the rankings or anything like that. It’s all about how we play in Denver.”

The team is right to keep looking forward. But while the arena staff didn’t have any sentimentality for the moment, fans should.

Not so long ago, it almost made sense that fans, players and coaches alike shrugged off the significance of making the Frozen Four. Michigan appeared in nine of them between 1992 and 2003.

But fans shouldn’t skate past the Wolverines’ accomplishment this weekend so quickly.

This squad deserves more than a half hour in the spotlight, and with the national semifinal game versus CCHA rival Notre Dame still almost two weeks away, hopefully everyone will use that time to let the reality of this success sink in.

Just take another look at Porter and Kolarik, two players who considered not returning for their senior year. Imagine this team without them, this weekend or any other.

“Kevin has set the bar for this team and Kolarik is right there with him, making sure that he holds it high,” Berenson said. “They make the difference on this team, there’s no question. I’ve never seen two seniors take over a team the way these two have and have everyone follow so completely.”

Sauer sat between Berenson and the seniors at Saturday’s press conference. Arguably the nation’s biggest question mark in net entering the season, Sauer exercised the demons of last year’s NCAA regional, stopping 43 of 44 shots he faced on the weekend.

Being named the All-East regional goalie means even more, considering where Sauer sat a year ago.

After giving up seven goals in a first-round loss to North Dakota, many doubted whether Sauer would ever be able to handle the pressure of big games. Nobody is wondering now.

“That was a pretty tough thing to swallow,” Sauer said. “You don’t get over that too quick. All last summer, it’s kind of in your mind. It’s something where you want to come out and prove everybody wrong.”

This whole season has been about providing answers to some glaring questions about Michigan hockey.

Is a team with 11 freshmen capable of standing up to postseason pressure? Sure.

Is “senior leadership” more than a catchphrase? You bet.

Is this still one of the top programs in the country? Absolutely.

“I know they doubted us,” Kolarik said. “We were supposed to finish fourth in our league, and here we are. We’re the No. 1 seed in the country, and we’re going to Denver.”

The season is by no means over, and the biggest weekend of the year is still to come. But now is a great time to take a glance back at how it all started, before facing forward and imagining how it could end.

Sandals can be reached at ALBANY, N.Y. – Just 30 minutes after Michigan beat Clarkson to win the NCAA East regional, everyone seemed ready to look ahead, not back.

By then, the Times Union Center staff was hard at work covering the ice and taking down the glass of the rink where the Wolverines had clinched their spot at the Frozen Four in Denver, their first trip to college hockey’s championship weekend since 2003.

Michigan coach Red Berenson, seniors Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik and junior Billy Sauer walked into the postgame press conference in suits. If anything, they looked more stern than genial.

Of course, the arena crew had a job to do. And the team was probably reserving its true celebration for the privacy of the locker room or the chartered flight back to Ann Arbor.

For the public, it was all business.

“It’s been our goal all year to be the number one team in the nation,” Kolarik said. “So far, we’ve done a good job of protecting that spot. But it doesn’t matter the rankings or anything like that. It’s all about how we play in Denver.”

The team is right to keep looking forward. But while the arena staff didn’t have any sentimentality for the moment, fans should.

Not so long ago, it almost made sense that fans, players and coaches alike shrugged off the significance of making the Frozen Four. Michigan appeared in nine of them between 1992 and 2003.

But fans shouldn’t skate past the Wolverines’ accomplishment this weekend so quickly.

This squad deserves more than a half hour in the spotlight, and with the national semifinal game versus CCHA rival Notre Dame still almost two weeks away, hopefully everyone will use that time to let the reality of this success sink in.

Just take another look at Porter and Kolarik, two players who considered not returning for their senior year. Imagine this team without them, this weekend or any other.

“Kevin has set the bar for this team and Kolarik is right there with him, making sure that he holds it high,” Berenson said. “They make the difference on this team, there’s no question. I’ve never seen two seniors take over a team the way these two have and have everyone follow so completely.”

Sauer sat between Berenson and the seniors at Saturday’s press conference. Arguably the nation’s biggest question mark in net entering the season, Sauer exercised the demons of last year’s NCAA regional, stopping 43 of 44 shots he faced on the weekend.

Being named the All-East regional goalie means even more, considering where Sauer sat a year ago.

After giving up seven goals in a first-round loss to North Dakota, many doubted whether Sauer would ever be able to handle the pressure of big games. Nobody is wondering now.

“That was a pretty tough thing to swallow,” Sauer said. “You don’t get over that too quick. All last summer, it’s kind of in your mind. It’s something where you want to come out and prove everybody wrong.”

This whole season has been about providing answers to some glaring questions about Michigan hockey.

Is a team with 11 freshmen capable of standing up to postseason pressure? Sure.

Is “senior leadership” more than a catchphrase? You bet.

Is this still one of the top programs in the country? Absolutely.

“I know they doubted us,” Kolarik said. “We were supposed to finish fourth in our league, and here we are. We’re the No. 1 seed in the country, and we’re going to Denver.”

The season is by no means over, and the biggest weekend of the year is still to come. But now is a great time to take a glance back at how it all started, before facing forward and imagining how it could end.

– Sandals can be reached at nsandals@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.