DETROIT — Red Berenson solemnly reached into his jacket pocket like a cowboy in a Western film preparing for a draw.
Carefully, he unfolded the 8.5 by 11-inch paper he found inside. Inscribed on it were the words that represented the faintest ray of light at the end of the darkest winter the Michigan hockey program has known in many, many years.
The lyrics to “The Victors” were printed on the page, and Berenson, only half kidding, had the help on hand if any of the freshmen needed it.
For them, it had been an excruciating wait to continue the tradition of singing the song after sweeps, and in a season with several rock bottoms, it was finally time to make a memory — one that didn’t sting. After all, it had been since the 1972-73 season that the program had gone this far into a season without a weekend sweep.
And so they sang in a way that only a team fresh off a sweep of a rival could, complete with roaring laughter and primal yelps. Passing by the locker room, nobody could’ve guessed the team inside was 10-16-2, so far from the NCAA Tournament bubble it couldn’t spot it with a telescope.
It’s far too late to save the season for Michigan.
The time for that has long passed. It could’ve come the last time the Wolverines were at Joe Louis Arena during the Great Lakes Invitational, when they were upset by a lesser Michigan Tech team. It could’ve come when the team started 2013 with three winnable home games but instead came away with no points.
For Michigan to finish .500, it would have to win the rest of its regular-season games. That’s unlikely considering four of the final six are on the road against top-four teams in the CCHA.
So it would seem this team is headed for its first losing season since Berenson’s third year at the helm. Not a single player on this year’s team was even born then.
None of that mattered Saturday.
What did matter, however, were two wins over their archrivals. And that’s going to be, in all likelihood, the fondest memory this year’s senior class has of this season. Though the Wolverines seem to be peaking at the right time — Berenson has called two of the past three weekends “the best” Michigan has played all season — those peaks won’t be high enough to make up for the tribulations.
So many of the program’s most exuberant moments have played out at Joe Louis Arena. For example, winning the 2010 CCHA Tournament, which Michigan needed to do in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
This year will present a similar scenario, but most likely a different ending. There’s no Shawn Hunwick to carry the team with his play in between the pipes. There’s no Carl Hagelin or Louie Caporusso to score in bunches.
But even if this team eventually has the unpleasant stigma of breaking the 22-year NCAA Tournament streak attached to it, at least the Wolverines can say it swept Michigan State — for the first time since 2008-09, and on a big stage.
If this Michigan team has nothing else, at least it will always have that.
Slovin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @MattSlovin