For most college hockey teams, getting to the Frozen Four three
years in a row would be a fantastic stretch of postseason runs. For
the Michigan hockey team, it’s actually a source of both happiness
and despair.

Mira Levitan
Michigan looks to exorcise the demons from the semifinal game of the Frozen Four, where it has failed to advance in three consecutive seasons. (DANNY MOLOSHOK/Daily)

That’s because the Frozen Four has not been kind to the
Wolverines in the past three years. Each time Michigan has hit the
postseason ice with high expectations, only to be rudely shown the
door by the eventual national champion in the semifinal game. It
has gotten a little old, if not annoying.

“It’s almost worse (than not getting to the Frozen Four),”
junior alternate captain Eric Nystrom said. “There are four teams
left in the whole NCAAs that are still playing, and it’s an honor
to be there, but the ultimate goal is to win (the championship
game).”

Perhaps the hardest thing to understand about Michigan’s
semifinal game woes is that there is no one answer to the
problem.

“If I knew the answer, then we’d have won a couple more
(national championships),” associate head coach Mel Pearson joked.
“I think all you can do is make sure that you have high
expectations for your team, set the bar high and then you play
consistently through the year.”

Michigan coach Red Berenson put it more simply.

“It’s just that one game – having that good game,” Berenson said
of the semifinal game.

Berenson noted that the two teams he has coached to the national
championship, the 1996 and 1998 squads, were playing their best
hockey when they reached the Frozen Four.

“When I think back to the years that we went to the final game,
we just smoked New Hampshire (in the 1998 semifinal) and we smoked
(Boston University in 1996 semifinal).”

Michigan dominated both of those games, winning 4-0 in each
contest. In contrast, the Wolverines have lost their last three
semifinal games, with the last two defeats coming at the hands of
Minnesota.

Senior captain Andy Burnes gave yet another version of what
needs to happen this time around.

“It starts right now,” Burnes said. “Everything that we’re doing
right now, preparing for the season, establishing what it’s going
to take, developing new habits and the little things that we’re
getting going right now is all building a good foundation, and
that’s the most important part of (winning the national
championship).”

While the players and coaches may have different opinions on
what the problem is, they are all hungry to advance one game
farther.

“I don’t think the word around the team is ‘CCHA First Place,
CCHA Playoffs,’ ” Nystrom said. “It’s a national championship race.
At the end of the year, we want to be back at that Frozen Four, and
we want to win it this year.”

Burnes took that comment one step further.

“(Not getting to the championship game) is a burning feeling
inside,” Burnes said. “It motivates you more than anything. It’s
something you think about all offseason when you’re working out in
the weight room and doing off-ice training.”

The season may be young, but the feeling is old. One team will
inevitably catch fire at the end of the season, and the Wolverines
just hope it’s finally them.

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