His response drew laughs from the rest of the coaches, but Michigan coach Red Berenson was dead on when he stated that this year’s Frozen Four was “Don’s to lose.” The Don he was referring to was Minnesota head coach Don Lucia.

While Cornell coach Mike Schafer, New Hampshire coach Dick Umile and Lucia all stated in yesterday’s teleconference that there was no favorite in next Thursday’s Frozen Four, it was Berenson who said that until proven otherwise, the defending-champion Golden Gophers are still the team to beat.

“The target’s always on the defending national champion,” said Berenson, who has been unsuccessful twice in trying to defend national titles. “I think we’ve seen that year in and year out … it’s Don’s tournament to lose.”

On the other hand, it’s Michigan’s tournament to win.

Going into the Frozen Four, the Wolverines will be the only non-No. 1 seed to emerge from the Elite Eight. Michigan defeated the Midwest’s top team in Colorado College three days ago.

So, unlike the defending national champs, Cornell (which is currently the No. 1 team in the nation) and New Hampshire (which was ranked the top team for some of the season), Michigan will enter Buffalo’s HSBC Arena with nothing to lose.

“We feel good just about being (in the Frozen Four),” Berenson said. “I think there’s more of a respect rivalry between Michigan and Minnesota, rather than a heated rivalry. Michigan has a great tradition against Minnesota and vice-versa. We’ve had great games with them, whether in the tournament or our Thanksgiving series (the College Hockey Showcase).”

No different: Put all your Rocky Balboa versus Ivan Drago analogies away, because this year’s championship – while it will pit the East (Cornell/New Hampshire winner) against the West (Minnesota/Michigan winner) – will most likely see two similar styles of play, despite the geographical differences.

“We just played Maine from the East and Colorado (College) from the West, and I thought their styles were similar,” Berenson said. “I didn’t see a big difference. It depends on the team. Mike Schafer plays maybe a different style than (Boston College’s) Jerry York, and they’re both Eastern teams.”

Lucia, who played a conglomerate of Eastern and Western teams, concurred with Berenson.

“I think it has more to do with the program than it has to do with East versus West,” Lucia said.

Showing some effort: Before Minnesota freshman Thomas Vanek became his team’s highest scorer, before he scored 29 goals this year and before he was named the WCHA’s Freshman of the Year, he had to learn one thing: How to work.

“We knew he was gifted offensively – 29 goals on the year for a freshman is phenomenal – but before he got here, he didn’t like to work very hard,” Lucia said. “But when he came in the summer time and started working out in our weight room, I was very impressed with him. The one thing he has had to learn this year is the work ethic Monday through Thursday that’s required in the college game to improve.”

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