Entering the CCHA playoffs as the three seed, the Michigan hockey team has something neither top-seeded Miami nor second-seeded Michigan State can lay claim to – the Mason Cup, the trophy awarded to the winner of the CCHA Tournament. And that is why, despite a rollercoaster season in which the Wolverines failed to produce a single win in four games against the Spartans and two on the road against the RedHawks, they still believe that the road to the title goes through them.
“There’s the trophy right in there,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson while pointing through the door to the Mason Cup on display in the next room. “Until this weekend starts it’s ours, and our team would like to bring it back.”
Last year, Michigan rolled into the CCHA playoffs as the No. 1 seed after torching the rest of the league to the tune of a 23-3-2 record and a regular-season conference title. After sweeping Notre Dame in the first round, the Wolverines posted wins over Alaska-Fairbanks and Ohio State to take the Mason Cup.
This year has proved more difficult.As the three seed, Michigan will have its hands full at Joe Louis Arena. The team went 0-1-3 in four games against Michigan State this season, and got swept by Miami, who faces Northern Michigan in the other semifinal matchup, in the team’s only meeting this year.
But senior goalie Noah Ruden played in just two of those six games – a 4-3 loss in Miami on Dec. 3 and a 2-0 loss in East Lansing on Jan. 17. The other games weren’t freshman goalie Billy Sauer’s fault, but this is a different Michigan squad with Ruden in the pipes than the one that failed to get past Michigan State and Miami during the regular season.
Last weekend’s effort also has the Wolverines confident heading into the weekend. Besides sweeping a team for the first time in three months, Michigan displayed signs of what it needs to be successful in tight postseason games. The veterans seemingly carried this team for the last few months, and last weekend against Ferris State, they were again the stars. Senior captain Andrew Ebbett notched two goals and two assists, and alternate captain T.J. Hensick chipped in two goals and one assist in the series sweep. But the contributions from the freshmen – Jack Johnson seemed to be everywhere all weekend, and Travis Turnbull scored with less than four minutes left to seal Friday’s game – combined with the team’s ability to hold on to a one-goal lead for the final 16 minutes of Saturday’s game are very good news as the Wolverines try to make a playoff run.
“You get confidence after being able to hold that one-goal lead Saturday night,” Ebbett said. “You have us older guys that have been there before, and we led the way. But the younger guys played great, especially Saturday night.”
The team shouldn’t need any more motivation beyond playing in the playoffs with a chance for revenge against its in-state rival, but two wins this weekend could give a significant boost to the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament seeding.
Although Michigan most likely sealed a bid with last weekend’s sweep of Ferris State, it doesn’t want to leave anything to chance. The Wolverines have adopted the attitude that Friday’s game is a must-win to even make the field of 16.
“If we get in the Tournament, it will be because we earn it this weekend,” Berenson said. “I’m trying to tell our team not to listen to all the speculation or all the what-ifs. The what-if is, ‘What if we lose to Michigan State?’ Then we don’t deserve to be in the Tournament.”
Ticket information: The Michigan Athletic Department has organized a CCHA Student Hockey Weekend bus trip. The trip includes a ticket to Michigan’s Friday night game against Michigan State as well as a ticket to whichever game the team ends up playing on Saturday. The bus will run from Yost Ice Arena to Joe Louis Arena and back. Each spot costs $30, and the deadline is Thursday at 12 p.m. Call the Michigan Sports Marketing office at (734) 615-2025 to reserve your spot.