Before facing off against Ohio State for a pair of games last weekend, Michigan coach Red Berenson insisted that he didn’t consider the Buckeyes and Wolverines to be rivals on the ice.
“I can’t sell them a rivalry that really doesn’t exist,” Berenson said after practice last Wednesday, suggesting that to his team, Ohio State is just a regular opponent.
When comparing the teams’ histories, Berenson’s point is clear: it’s no contest.
Michigan has captured nine NCAA championships in its 23 Frozen Four appearances, while Ohio State has never played for a national title.
The Wolverines lead the all-time matchup 66-31-11 — a total that includes an eight-year, 34-game undefeated stretch for Michigan that began in 1990. In that span, Ohio State wasn’t even competitive — just two of its 27 regulation losses were by one goal.
Truth be told, Michigan’s storied program is a benchmark in college hockey, while Ohio State hasn’t contended with the nation’s best teams in its 49 years of existence.
But when the two teams took the ice on Friday and Saturday, the history books remained on the shelf.
This time around, Ohio State had a new look. First-year Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki, formerly an assistant coach at Wisconsin, has his team playing fundamental hockey. Although they aren’t necessarily near contending for a national title, they are competitive enough to be a roadblock.
Fans in Columbus have taken notice of the changes, and though the Buckeyes may not fill their rink — the 20,000-seat Value City Arena — the wheels haven’t fallen off of their bandwagon just yet. Rather, it’s gaining speed.
Even though Michigan hadn’t swept consecutive games in Columbus since the 1999-2000 season, the 11th-ranked Wolverines expected take the two-game series last weekend with ease.
Berenson refused to call the matchup a rivalry, but after the Buckeyes nearly sent Michigan home empty-handed, Michigan (8-3-1-0 CCHA, 9-5-4 overall) should be singing a different tune.
Through 59 minutes on Friday, the Wolverines had the advantage both in intensity and on the scoreboard, but gave up a goal with just under 11 seconds to tie the game, 2-2. The Buckeyes capped off their comeback with the game-winning tally early in the overtime period.
As the scarlet and gray jerseys celebrated by the end boards, several dismayed and defeated Wolverines skated off the ice and headed to the dressing room — the absences were noticed during the postgame handshakes at center ice.
In the press conference following the game, Berenson defended his players, as did senior forward Louie Caporusso.
“It was such a quick ending that everyone was celebrating and some of the guys just forgot and came off the ice,” Caporusso said. “We don’t usually do things like that. It wasn’t by any means disrespect, they just forgot.”
Whether it was a case of forgetfulness or not, avoiding the standard handshakes can stir up plenty of strife on the opposing team — just ask the Detroit Red Wings about their thoughts on Sidney Crosby skipping out on the handshakes after the 2009 Stanley Cup finals.
Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to ignite a rivalry.
Regardless, Ohio State (3-6-1-1, 6-8-1) is no longer getting beat into the ground on a yearly basis by Michigan, and has proven itself an admirable adversary for the Wolverines.
The teams meet in Ann Arbor for another pair of games in early February. And a little advice for Michigan: tread lightly around these Buckeyes.
Oh, and don’t forget the handshake.