The game has stuck out like a sore thumb on No. 7 Michigan’s schedule since it was released in July. Squeezed between a series against Quinnipiac last weekend and this Sunday’s game against Merrimack, players and fans couldn’t help but notice Friday night’s game against No. 5 Boston College.
Whenever these two teams have met since Boston College coach Jerry York arrived, there’s been a lot on the line – the 1998 NCAA Championship, the 2000 Great Lakes Invitational Championship, a 2001 NCAA Frozen Four matchup, a 2003 GLI semifinal and a 2004 NCAA second-round game. But this time around, in the Eagles’ season opener, the implications might not be felt until months later when NCAA tournament selections are on the line, or if the two teams happen to meet in the tournament.
“This game might be more important in March than it is now,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We need to understand how important it might be then. I think it’s great for both programs that we play and whether we will meet in the NCAA tournament you never know. It’s great to stay in touch with those programs.”
Even without future considerations, the game has a lot riding on it.
For Michigan’s upperclassmen, there’s the revenge factor. After suffering a heart-breaking loss that eliminated the Wolverines from the 2004 NCAA Tournament, the players who remain from that team are intent on giving this year’s Eagles a taste of their own medicine.
“I think it’s going to be huge for the guys that are still around,” senior captain Andrew Ebbett said. “That was a heart-breaking overtime loss, and it’s been sitting in the back of our minds for the past year. We’ve been waiting to get at them. It’ll be good to get them on the ice at home.”
Even for players that haven’t been around, there are many personal ties between the two teams. Watching the Wolverines coming off the ice at the end of practice as the Eagles went on last night was like a family reunion. Five players on the Boston College roster have played with at least one Wolverine, and seven Wolverines have skated on a team with one of the Eagles.
“Any time you play against the guys that you played with before Michigan you want to beat them,” said alternate captain Brandon Kaleniecki, who played with Eagles’ senior defenseman Pater Harrold. “You get the extra bragging rights. It’s exciting at the same time. I played with him for two years, and here we are playing four years later in such an important game.”
On the ice, the Wolverines have been preparing for a Boston College team that is known for shifting between offensive and defensive modes quickly – making Michigan’s ability to minimize turnovers critical, because any single mistake might lead to odd-man rushes.
“We think we’ve done pretty well working on the transition game,” Berenson said. “But against a team like Boston College, it’s uncharted waters. I think this will be a good test for a lot of parts of our game – coming out of our own zone, the neutral zone, the transition game and our special teams.”
Berenson has decided to start freshman Billy Sauer in goal for the third consecutive game. With a 2.00 goals-against average and 49 saves, Sauer earned a victory in both games last weekend.
After facing the Eagles on Friday night, the Wolverines welcome Merrimack to Yost Ice Arena. The Warriors will play their season opener at Bowling Green on Friday night before coming to Ann Arbor. Merrimack opens the season hoping to snap a 14-game losing streak that dates back to Dec. 31.