ST. PAUL, Minn. — The battle wounds were apparent.
Carl Hagelin limped to the postgame press conference following the Michigan hockey team’s 2-0 victory over North Dakota last night.
And Ben Winnett was a minute late, as he strolled in — shirt, tie and a bag of ice taped on his left forearm — to take a seat in front of local and national reporters.
They were signs of the scars, bumps and nicks they’d sustain for the good of the team.
Let me repeat that for you.
Tonight, Michigan shocked the world against the Fighting Sioux.
Okay, maybe they didn’t really shock the world like the Fab Five did back in the early 1990s. They weren’t that big of an underdog against the nation’s No. 1 team.
But they did do something many people within the college hockey community didn’t think was possible: beat North Dakota — hands down the best team coming into the NCAA Tournament two weeks ago and the hottest squad in the country — in what was practically a road game.
The Wolverines arrived at the Xcel Energy Center with their lunch bucket and hard-hat in tow, willing to go to work.
In the first half of the season, Michigan coach Red Berenson was candid about his current crop of Wolverines not being some of the most offensively-skilled players in recent memory, with them possibly having to grind out their fair share of games.
And while Michigan fans aren’t accustomed to normally hearing those words, it’s a mantra that has carried the team throughout the season — it wasn’t more noticeable than tonight.
Michigan knew entering the contest against North Dakota, it’d need to play a defensive-minded game. It’d need to slow down Matt Frattin, a frontrunner for the Hobey Baker Award, and his line that combined for 69 goals this season.
And, it’d need goaltender Shawn Hunwick to have the game of his life.
The Wolverines got all of that — and more.
Everywhere you looked, a Wolverine was showing signs of commitment all over the ice.
Seniors like Louie Caporusso and Carl Hagelin — two of the team’s most talented offensive players — showed their commitment to the defensive side of the red line.
Just look at Hagelin’s limp.
In the first period, freshman Derek DeBlois got destroyed along the boards in front of the Michigan bench, simply to get the puck out of the zone — a sacrifice.
And Hunwick played hands down his best-career game wearing the block ‘M,’ as he made 40 saves to shut out the nation’s second best offense. From the drop of the puck to the Wolverines piling on Hunwick to celebrate the win, Michigan played team hockey.
With less than 40 seconds remaining in the contest, Hagelin blocked a shot in the Wolverine zone, dishing the puck to Caporusso. Caporusso skated up the ice and had a clear shot from the red line. He could have easily thrown a shot into the wide-open net — it’s a shot he could make blindfolded nine out of 10 times.
But he didn’t.
He fed a pass to senior foward Scooter Vaughan, who made no mistake about it as he sent a wrister into the empty net, sealing Michigan’s berth in the NCAA title game on Saturday.
Pass. Shoot. Score.
— Burns can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org