When the Michigan Athletic Department agreed to host this season”s NCAA Tournament West Regional, it probably assumed that its hockey team would be playing in it.
But if the Wolverines lose one or two more contests this season, they will be facing the humiliating scenario of watching six other teams duke it out in their own barn.
With his team currently ranked 12th in the Pairwise Rankings (which mirror the selection process used by the NCAA), Michigan coach Red Berenson knows that the Wolverines” record of 16-8-5 has put them on “the bubble” for making the tournament.
He knows that his team needs to be ranked in the top eight of the Pairwise to solidify a berth, and he legitimately believes that every game could “bury us or make us.”
But does his team believe it?
The Wolverines have talked all season about how much parity there is in the CCHA, and how any team can beat them on any given night. One of their favorites is “every team comes ready to play against Michigan.”
But thus far, it”s been a lot of talk from the Wolverines and not much action. Most recently, they”ve been victimized by Alaska-Fairbanks and Bowling Green at Yost Ice Arena. Their 4-2 loss to the Falcons knocked them down four spots in the Pairwise and kept them out of first place in the conference.
The time for action is now, with a two-game series against Nebraska-Omaha on the slate this weekend. The Mavericks are riding an eight-game winning streak into Ann Arbor and could knock Michigan out of the NCAA Tournament and end its CCHA championship hopes with a sweep.
The time has come for Michigan to take on its opponent”s mindset for each game, before it”s too late. Instead of every team being ready for Michigan, how about Michigan being ready for every team?
The time for excuses has passed. The freshmen are not freshmen any longer. The Wolverines are missing just one skater, junior standout Mike Cammalleri, and they proved that they could play to their full potential without him in their 1-1 tie against Michigan State.
Each and every player in the lockerroom has to dig deep inside and find a way to play with pride especially at Yost, where Michigan has struggled (5-5-2) and plays five of its last seven games.
Pride has been the backbone of Berenson”s program, and it shouldn”t take anything more than gazing up into the rafters at Yost and seeing the championship banners to generate the emotion and passion needed to perform.
And if that”s not enough to get the Wolverines ready to play night in and night out, all they need to do is take a look at their penalty-killing unit.
Michigan has extended its streak to 46 consecutive penalty kills and has not allowed a powerplay goal in 640 minutes of hockey. Berenson feels that the Wolverines” success when down a man has become a “source of pride” for his team.
The four penalty killers on the ice play together with a reckless abandon, blocking shots by sacrificing their bodies and inflicting pain on their opponents. They play harder and tougher because when they are down a man for two minutes their backs are against the wall.
It”s human nature to play with more desire when you feel like the world is against you, and right now, whether Michigan wants to believe it or not, the world is against it.
Because of their inability to play with pride at Yost, the Wolverines” season has just become one “do or die” penalty kill.
And for Michigan”s postseason dreams to materialize, it better hope the streak continues.