Monday was picture day for the Michigan hockey team. There was no shortage of adjectives — young, scrappy, hungry, to name a few — already being floated around to describe the smiling group positioned in front of the home bench at Yost Ice Arena.
But earlier that day, pollsters added one more: top-ranked.
And while the decision wasn’t unanimous — the Wolverines are ranked second in the USA Today poll behind Boston College — one has to wonder how the nation’s top spot in the USCHO.com poll will affect a team that consistently plays all eight of its true freshmen.
The only certainty, however, is that just more than two weeks into the season, the ranking has no merit in the mind of Michigan coach Red Berenson.
“I think everyone goes off the team’s records (nowadays),” Berenson said. “Right now, everyone’s lost some games, so nobody’s really running away with anything.”
Everyone, that is, except for a handful of teams including Michigan.
But it’s far too early to determine the best team in the conference, let alone the nation. In the CCHA preseason poll, Notre Dame was deemed the favorite, though Berenson’s nod went to Miami (Ohio). Both programs finished above the third-ranked Wolverines, who collected just one of the 11 first-place votes.
Much of Michigan’s starkest competition comes from inside its own state. Ferris State and Lake Superior State have matched the Wolverines’ 4-0 start. But Berenson’s squad has climbed steadily to the top of the rankings by making quick work of teams that it should beat.
Powers like Miami and Notre Dame, however, have been tripped up early while getting reaccustomed to the rigors of regular season play. The RedHawks split their first two series to Bemidji State and Colgate. Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish split with defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth and Ohio State.
Michigan has eased its way into the schedule, allowing its youngest skaters to build confidence that Berenson says is good for morale.
“We haven’t had that kind of test yet,” Berenson said. “So we’ll take (the ranking) with a grain of salt. We’ve got a long way to go.”
And that long journey begins this weekend with the start of CCHA play against Northern Michigan — yet another in-state power. The series against the Wildcats represents the Wolverines’ first opportunity to prove themselves as a serious contender for the conference title and deserving of the nation’s top ranking.