Last year’s abrupt end to the
Michigan hockey season has left the class of 2005 with one final
chance to deliver the Wolverines an NCAA championship. After seeing
their first three seasons end in devastating fashion, the team
feels that the barrier holding it back is a problem of personal
agendas. With the issue identified, senior captain Eric Nystrom
feels that their final year in Ann Arbor could be their best.

Ice Hockey
(Photo illustration by Trevor Campbell)

“A few times a couple guys may have been on their own
agenda last season and that hurt the team,” Nystrom said.
“We need to get everyone on the same page and working toward
the same goal to accomplish it.

“(It is) a good opportunity for whole bunch of guys to go
out on top … One last hurrah here, and there is no turning
back.”

In 2001, two days before the Wolverines were to take the ice in
the Cold War game with Michigan State, the class of 2005 roster was
finalized with the addition of walk-on Charlie Henderson. Since
then, the Michigan hockey program has come to rely on the 11-member
class as the guiding force for the team.

From the first time they took the ice against top-ranked
Michigan State in front of 74,500 fans screaming in Spartan
Stadium, the expectations were soaring.

“We knew that we would be a huge part of that team, even
in our first season, first game, first half,” senior
defenseman Brandon Rogers said. “Once we learned how things
worked, the second half became even more important because we were
counted on pretty heavily.”

The group of seniors has, for the most part, delivered. In his
first game, a laid back forward from Alaska, senior Jason Ryznar,
scored a goal and added an assist en route to a 3-3 tie. Since then
Michigan has seen two trips to the Frozen Four and a pair of
regional victories at Yost to go with a 85-35-10 record.

“(An NCAA Championship) would be the icing on the
cake,” Ryznar said. “I think that’s what you look
forward to and expect when you come to Michigan.”

Yet an NCAA Championship has been the one goal that has eluded
one of Michigan’s strongest recruiting classes. Last season
was the first year the class of 2005 didn’t make it to the
Frozen Four, bowing out to Boston College in overtime of the
Northeast Regional final. With last year’s captain, Andy
Burnes, the only senior with regular playing time, the season also
marked the first time the class was called upon to truly lead the
team. They had to go beyond leaders on the stats page, the coaching
staff expected them to truly step up in a leadership role.

“Getting to the Frozen Four is tough,” Nystrom said.
“To get (to the Frozen Four) twice and not even make it to
the championship game, I think (not winning a title) would be a
disappointment.”

Despite having both alternate captains coming from their class
last season in Rogers and Nystrom, the group failed to deliver a
level of leadership that the coaching staff felt it could.

“We are just asking the seniors that they take more
ownership in this team,” Associate Head Coach Mel Pearson
said. “I think when you’re a junior, you don’t
see the light at the end of the tunnel and say ‘hey, this is
it.’ ”

For Michigan to even consider a run at the NCAA title, it will
need every member of its dynamic senior class to buy into the
program and play as a team

“I think we have a pretty strong team heading into this
year,” Rogers said. “A lot of special things could
happen if we’re all willing to buy into it and play as a
team. If we put the team before ourselves, I think it will work
out.”

A tour around the locker room reveals 11 distinctive characters.
From the team jokester Milan Gajic to Dwight Helminen, a quiet guy
off the ice who lets his game do the talking on it. There is Eric
Werner, who Pearson describes as a “flash and dash”
type player for his offensive prowess from the blue-line, and
Rogers who epitomizes the student athlete both in the classroom and
on the ice.

The hard working walk-on Henderson, the steady Nick Martens, the
physical Michael Woodford and the gritty David Moss have all proved
to be pleasant surprises for the Wolverines. All four have been big
contributors since their arrival in Ann Arbor. Reilly Olson rounds
out the class but didn’t see any game action last year.

“We have a cast of different characters,” Pearson
said. “I think that’s what makes the group so
strong.”

Nystrom, who was drafted in the first round of the 2002 Entry
Draft, has been the group’s leader since the beginning and
knows how important it is that the 11 seniors work together not
only for themselves but for the other 15 guys on the team.

“Our class is two totally different classes when we are
working together, when we’re working hard, when we’re
playing for the team. If we’re not doing that, it’s
like we are just a bunch of individuals,” Nystrom said.
“That’s one thing we need to show all the younger guys:
that we’re working together, we’re a big part of the
team. If we can get everybody else on board, it could be a great
year.”

If history repeats itself, Pearson believes he will see 11
seniors putting up the best seasons of their careers. It is a
recipe for success that could find the class of 2005 winning their
swan song, fulfilling the last of the expectations.

“I think this is going to be an awesome year, but just
because we have 11 seniors doesn’t mean we are going to go
out and cakewalk through the season,” Nystrom said. “We
have to play

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