Rankings don’t get any closer than this.

When the Michigan hockey team goes on the road this weekend for the College Hockey Showcase, the top-ranked Wolverines (7-1-0 CCHA, 9-2-1 overall) will take on No. 2 Wisconsin (7-3-0 WCHA, 9-3-0) and No. 3 Minnesota (6-2-0, 8-3-0).

This is the 12th year in a row that these teams — along with Michigan State — have played each other in the four-team showcase. When Joel Maturi was the assistant athletic director at Wisconsin, he came to Michigan coach Red Berenson and tried to set up a series between the two teams. What they agreed upon was the Showcase, which alternates venues every year. This year the Wolverines and the Spartans travel to Minnesota and Wisconsin for a two-game road trip.

“It’s going to be (two) solid, hard-fought games, just like last weekend (when Michigan played Michigan State),” sophomore T.J. Hensick said.

“If we put three solid periods together, it’s going to come down to the last 10 minutes. And I think I’ll take our team over their teams.”

This week is actually a normal week of practice for the Wolverines. Even though it’s Thanksgiving weekend, the games are still on Friday (Minnesota) and Saturday (Wisconsin), and the team still leaves for the road trip tomorrow, just like any other Thursday.

Thanksgiving will be a fairly laid-back day for the Wolverines. They will meet up at Cottage Inn in Ann Arbor for a midday lunch before getting on the bus for the 10-hour trip to Minnesota. Hensick said that he wasn’t sure if there was going to be a turkey, but Berenson said that they will have a real Thanksgiving team dinner when they get to Minneapolis.

“The visiting teams have done well at this tournament for some reason,” Berenson said. “Don’t ask me why. Whether it’s the home team enjoying Thanksgiving too much or being distracted, I don’t know. Now, we’ll wait and see how it plays out this year, but if you look at this tournament, it’s amazing the road records of all these teams.”

The visiting team in the Michigan-Minnesota series has won each of the last six Showcase meetings. With Wisconsin, it’s not quite as lopsided, but the visiting team between the Wolverines and the Badgers has still gone 3-2-1 over the last six years. Berenson complained that the holiday traffic is a problem for this tournament, but added that he likes the dates of the Showcase.

“We enjoy the competition,” Berenson said. “And I think the fact that these are Big Ten schools, and there’s some history now in the tournament (helps).”

Even though neither game this weekend is a CCHA matchup, Michigan’s players and coaches stressed the importance of nonconference competition — especially in the eyes of the national media.

“(Our goal) is always to win, but I think, more importantly, it’s to put 60 minutes together,” Hensick said. “We haven’t put a 60 minute game together yet.”


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