One of the largest incoming classes in Michigan hockey history came to Ann Arbor four years ago.
Twelve freshmen became Wolverines back in the fall of 2007, and since then, the class size has dwindled to just seven.
Following the class’s first year, it saw the early exit of power forward Max Pacioretty to the Hamilton Bulldogs, the minor league affiliate of the Montreal Canadians. After its second season, Aaron Palushaj left Michigan and is still toiling around in the American Hockey League (maybe that wasn’t the best choice, eh?).
The Wolverines also said, “Bye, bye,” to Kevin Quick and Tristin Llewellyn for violating team expectations.
After all of that, the seven still standing (senior netminder Shawn Hunwick is projected to return for a fifth year) have won practically everything: two CCHA regular-season titles, two conference tournament championships and three Great Lakes Invitational titles. It’s been to the NCAA Tourney all four years, but the Frozen Four only once.
With that being said, it’s time for this senior class to leave its mark at Michigan and check the one box that has eluded this program for over a decade: an NCAA title.
And the run to St. Paul, Minn. begins next Friday in the CCHA Tournament semifinals.
The Wolverines have won games this year in every imaginable way, which is certainly key come playoff time and especially in the NCAAs.
They have shellacked teams like Michigan State with a 5-0 win in The Big Chill at the Big House in front of a world-record crowd. Hunwick stole the show on a few occasions — just ask Alaska and New Hampshire about the netminder.
The Nanooks fired 76 shots on Hunwick in a two-game series back in January, and the Sterling Heights, Mich. native stopped all but three to preserve the sweep. Against the Wildcats, he stopped 45 of 48 shots in a 3-3 tie during mid-October.
Not to mention, Michigan won 10 of its 25 contests by just one goal.
The list goes on and on about the ways in which this team won hockey games this season.
This past weekend against Bowling Green — the class’s final game at Yost Ice Arena — was a perfect example. In Saturday night’s 4-1 win, three sophomores tallied lamplighters, with defenseman Lee Moffie notching two goals in the process.
Michigan’s three leading scorers who were actually in the lineup — Carl Hagelin, Matt Rust and Chris Brown — didn’t register a single point during that game.
The Wolverines dominated an inferior team up-and-down the ice all night long — they sent the Falcons back to that state down south and propelled themselves to Joe Louis Arena once again.
So here we are.
It’s mid-March and Michigan is back at the Joe contending for another CCHA Tournament championship.
Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if Wolverine nation was cheering for an NCAA title contender this year?
Don’t worry, it is.
“I can’t tell you if I’m happy with the legacy or the program,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said to FoxSportsDetroit in an article last week. “I don’t think we’ve done as well as we should have.”
But this class has done as well as it “should have” — almost.
When Michigan grabs a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament in two weeks, there won’t be lofty expectations that can’t be reached.
There’s just going to be one slight dilemma.
Will the seven members of 2011 become a memorable class by bringing home the program’s 10th title, or will they become a class lost in the memory of a program that has fallen short on other occasions on the biggest stage?
We’ll find out soon enough.
— Burns can be reached at email@example.com