After weeks of hoping for an NCAA Tournament bye, Michigan finally found its destination yesterday the No. 3 seed in the West Regional in Grand Rapids.
And Michigan”s insight on its opponent, Mercyhurst, proves to continue the trend of ambiguity.
“We”ve accumulated close to 40 games on tape as a library of information on possible opponents, and I can tell you that the one with the least amount of tape is Mercyhurst,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “This is because they”re not televised as much and are not as visible.
“They”ll be a team like Niagara was, coming from an unproven league and looking to prove something. I know they”ll be super-excited to play in the NCAA Tournament.”
Niagara came out of the less-established CHA conference last year to stun 1999 NCAA runner-up New Hampshire team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
In the same way, Mercyhurst has something to prove. After several years at the Division III and Division II level, the Lakers will make their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament since gaining Division I status just two years ago.
Mercyhurst, a small school located in Erie, Pa., joined the four-year old MAAC conference this season and just in time.
This is the first year the MAAC conference tournament winner gained one of the five automatic berths into the NCAAs, to go along with the CCHA, WCHA, ECAC, and CHA.
Although Berenson fully supports improving and expanding college hockey, he and other coaches feel that giving a new league a precious berth isn”t always a good thing.
“But I don”t think anybody feels good about giving them an automatic bid right now if you take all the coaches around the country, they”re not too excited about that.”
This still leaves Mercyhurst, MAAC conference and Tournament champions, with the hunger to prove the critics wrong, and show it deserves a bid.
“We”re going to have to be ready to come out against a team that will come out and give it everything it”s got, with a nothing-to-lose attitude,” sophomore center Mike Cammalleri said. “That”s tough anytime you play against a team that has nothing to lose and will throw everything at you.”
What Michigan will find out about these Lakers is that they”re a young, hard-skinned team that has dealt with plenty of adversity, but is peaking at the right time of year. This makes them a very dangerous opponent for the nationally renowned Michigan team that is making its record 11th straight appearance in the tournament.
“I don”t like to hear the mighty Michigan and the unknown Mercyhurst, because we all know that story,” Berenson said.
“So we just have to get our feet on the ground and get ready to play against a good team a team that is going to play its tail off.”