ST. PAUL –
The weekend was supposed to be a rude welcome to Division I hockey for Michigan’s 12 freshmen.
It turned out the youngsters had already let themselves in the back door, grabbed some cups and commandeered the keg. Right away, they were at home.
Despite its underdog status, the Michigan hockey team hoped to come away from last weekend’s Ice Breaker Invitational with the championship trophy. But beating then-No. 2 Boston College and hanging close in what was, for all intents and purposes, a road game against then-No. 5 Minnesota, is about the best start imaginable for this inexperienced team.
Maybe the freshmen just didn’t know any better.
“(The freshmen) haven’t seen it, and, obviously, they played not intimidated,” Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers said. “So we were happy with their effort all weekend.”
That’s not to say the 4-3 overtime upset of the Eagles and the hard fought 4-3 loss to the Gophers were just the product of dumb luck. The Wolverines had one asset you don’t need experience or skill to use: hard work.
Beginning with the opening period against Boston College, the Wolverines threw themselves around the ice with seemingly no concern for bodily harm, deflecting shots and backchecking recklessly. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. In that one period, Michigan showed more defensive effort than it showed for months at a time last season.
T.J. Hensick, Jack Johnson and Andrew Cogliano are gone, but there are still 21 guys in winged helmets who know one crucial fact of hockey: If you play physical, more often than not, you’ll have a chance to win.
“I thought everyone played the body pretty well tonight, and I thought that was a big help for us,” Michigan senior captain Kevin Porter said.”(Minnesota has) a lot of skilled guys, and when they get hit, they don’t like it.”
For all the effort the freshmen put in last weekend, it wouldn’t have been nearly as fruitful without Porter’s leadership.
After falling behind 2-0 in the first period against Minnesota, Porter’s line set the tone for the rest of the game during the first shift of the second stanza. Though Michigan’s first goal didn’t come for another eight minutes, it was clear from those 45 seconds that the Wolverines can match up with the best teams in the country.
Michigan fought back from two-goal deficits three separate times against the Gophers. It
would’ve been easy to pack it in after the first period, but the Wolverines didn’t. It would’ve been easy to resign to a loss when Minnesota went up 3-1 just more than a minute into the third period, but Michigan wouldn’t. Playing shorthanded in the final minute, Michigan still fought for the tying goal. Sixty minutes of effort. That’s all you can ask.
With the heart they showed, these Wolverines are going to surprise and impress a lot of teams this season.
“They’re rebuilt and reloaded,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “With the guys that they’ve lost, they have a very good team.”
Lucia could say that with a smile Saturday night, but the next time these two teams meet – Nov. 24 in Ann Arbor – he knows the result could be different.
Considering the effort Michigan put forth last weekend, it’s exciting to think of where the team could be with a few more weeks of game experience.
Well, exciting for Michigan, not for Lucia and the rest of the college hockey world.
The freshmen are crashing the party.
– Sandals can be reached at email@example.com.