When visitors entered the Michigan hockey office over the past year and glanced to their left, they used to see the Mason Cup displayed proudly.

But 12 months have passed, and the Mason Cup is gone. This weekend, the Wolverines have the chance to reclaim it.

Michigan will begin its defense of the trophy named after the legendary former Northern Michigan and Michigan State coach Ron Mason tonight when it takes on Ohio State in the CCHA Super Six Semifinals at Joe Louis Arena.

“When you hold a trophy, you definitely want to defend it,” Ortmeyer said. “It’s a letdown if you’re not able to. We’ve faced a lot of adversity at the beginning of the season, and I think that’s going to help us have a chance to go down there and defend it.”

The Wolverines started the season ranked as high as second in the national polls, but injures and third-period collapses left Michigan fighting for second, as Ferris State won its first-ever regular season championship.

“We haven’t accomplished a thing,” Ortmeyer said. “We came up short in the league. This is our opportunity to try and win a championship, and hopefully that will lead us right into NCAAs.”

By virtue of finishing as the top two teams in the league, Michigan and Ferris State received byes into tonight’s semifinals while Ohio State and Northern Michigan had to defeat Notre Dame and Michigan State, respectively, last night to advance. Tonight’s winners will play at 7:35 p.m. on Saturday for the Mason Cup and an NCAA Tournament automatic bid. The losers will play in a newly formed third-place game at 4:05 p.m.

The Buckeyes, led by Hobey Baker candidate R.J. Umberger, played the Wolverines to two fierce ties on the final weekend of the regular season. The Vancouver Canucks’ first-round draft pick finished second in the league in scoring and caused havoc inside Michigan’s blueline.

To be successful, the Wolverines’ young defense and the nation’s best penalty kill will have to be at their peak.

“This time of year you have to play good defense,” Michigan associate head coach Mel Pearson said. “It’s a lot easier to win a game 2-0 than it is to win 7-6. We put a lot of emphasis this time of year on our defense, and it’s not just our defensemen, it’s total team defense.”

This is the time of year, historically, when Michigan starts to shine. The Wolverines have advanced to the Mason Cup finals six of the last seven seasons and to six of the last eight NCAA Frozen Fours.

One ex-Michigan star, 1997 Hobey Baker Award winner and Vancouver Canuck Brendan Morrison, called Red Berenson this week and said about this weekend’s action: “Well, this is the time when Michigan plays its best.”

The Wolverines have built their recent national reputation over the past decade on winning on weekends such as this one, and the players realize that.

“I think they understand this tradition when they decide to come to Michigan,” Ortmeyer said. “I think it’s the reason why I chose to come to Michigan, and I think a lot of these kids when they made their decision, I think it weighs a big part.”

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