GREEN BAY, Wisc. — For the first time in months, senior forward Luke Glendening could take a deep breath. A sigh of relief.
But only for a second — it’s win or go home time now.
For the 22nd year in a row, the Michigan hockey team earned a bid in the NCAA Tournament. And in the end, it didn’t have much to sweat — the Wolverines earned a one-seed in the Midwest region, setting up a matchup with four-seed Cornell on Friday night.
But for a while, that streak was in serious jeopardy. On Thursday, Glendening revealed for the first time how much that gnawed at him.
“You talk about the legacy of Michigan hockey a lot, and I didn’t want to be part of the legacy that was the first to not make it,” Glendening said.
It was senior defenseman Greg Pateryn, actually, who spoke first. He indicated that the team didn’t feel too much pressure, that the team was confident it would rebound after a dreadful November.
But Glendening deviated from his teammate’s response. For him, he said, it was personal.
The Resch Center, where Michigan will play Cornell on Friday, sits right in the shadow of Lambeau Field. So when college hockey’s most consistent dynasty drove past the home of one of the NFL’s most consistent dynasties and arrived at the arena, Glendening could be content.
But not for long.
“It’s not good enough for us just to be here,” Glendening said. “That’s not what we came to do. It’s not satisfying just showing up. You come to play hockey.”
And so to protect the team from complacency, Michigan coach Red Berenson is making some somewhat substantial line changes.
During the week, junior forward Chris Brown, who usually plays on a potent scoring line with senior forward David Wohlberg and freshman forward Alex Guptill, was elsewhere. Instead, sophomore Derek DeBlois replaced him.
But Berenson isn’t positive that he’s making changes.
“When you see the line chart (on Friday) you’ll have a better idea,” Berenson said. “But I like the fact that we’ve got some flexibility. We’ve had different players play with different players during the year, and we’ve even had some guys play different positions. I think when you get to this point of the year, you have to be flexible, as a coach and a player.
“That doesn’t answer (the) question, but that’s my answer.”
So to counter Michigan’s hinted-at-but-maybe-not-you’ll-just-have-to-wait-and-see line changes, Cornell plans on… well, actually, Cornell doesn’t really care.
“We pride ourselves on great balance,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “Defensively, I’m never really worried about anybody on our team and line matchups … (so) you know that if you play a team that’s going to create a one-two punch and two players, or you’re playing against a team that can contribute offensively from everywhere that we have that balance.
“We don’t feel that there’s a line that we have to protect or defensive pair that we have to protect.”
Cornell, after all, has performed well defensively no matter who it has played. The Big Red allow just 2.27 goals per game, good for 12th in the nation, and got tougher against tough opponents.
They surrendered just two goals to Boston University when the teams played at Madison Square Garden in a game that went into overtime. And they surrendered just four total goals in two games against Colorado College.
Because of its tough defensive style, Berenson feels a sense of familiarity with Cornell.
“I see them as a CCHA-type team,” Berenson said. “If they were in our league, they’d be right there with the top teams in our league.
“They’re in the ECAC, but they look like they belong in the CCHA.”
And if this one is close, look for penalties to play a deciding role. Michigan has been anemic on the power play this year with a 15.3 percent conversion rate, but Cornell’s penalty kill (78.9 percent) is even worse. Michigan will need to capitalize on those opportunities if it is to advance to the second round against the winner of the Ferris State-Denver contest.
Berenson’s team was all business on Thursday. While the first three teams to take the ice blared songs by Kelly Clarkson and Gym Class Heroes, the Wolverines practiced in silence.
Maybe that’s because Berenson, who’s seen his share of NCAA Tournament games, sees this do-or-die game as a nail-biter.
“Whether it’s their grinding style or the defensive style, I just see this as a real grinding, hard-fought, close game,” he said.
Deep breath’s over.