This was needed. More than anything else, this was needed. Al Montoya standing on his head while fending off Black Bears and Tigers was needed.
Jed Ortmeyer turning into a Stevie Y-incarnate one more time in the playoffs was needed.
Most importantly, Michigan going back to the Frozen Four was needed – for the team and the Michigan athletic family.
For Ortmeyer and John Shouneyia, this was their time to prove they could be just as effective without last year’s star and early departure, Mike Cammalleri. Both senior captains have had to endure a lot this season, including injuries at the beginning of the season. But after each one of the Wolverines’ nine losses and the resulting failure to win the CCHA regular season title, the loss of Cammalleri was staring the two team leaders right in the face.
For sophomore Milan Gajic, this season was supposed to be his chance to break out. In minors, Gajic was unstoppable with a 50-plus goal-scoring season the year before he came to Michigan. But after a so-so freshman year, an academic suspension midway through this season and being a healthy scratch for the final two games of the regular season, it was a wonder if Gajic would ever produce the way he was recruited to.
For the defense this season, there was little doubt it was supposed to be one of the nation’s best. Mike Komisarek and junior alternate captain Andy Burnes were to anchor what was going to give Michigan a shot at the national title. But with Komisarek leaving early at the same time Cammalleri did, Burnes contracting mononucleosis early in the season and Eric Werner losing the second half of his season to an academic suspension, many wondered how the defense could ever be successful with forwards-turned-defensemen (David Wyzgowski and J.J. Swistak) and a youngster (Danny Richmond) carrying much of the load.
Up until now for Bill Martin and the rest of the athletic family, this has been a year that many would like to forget. While diver Jason Coben (I told you to learn his name), wrestler Ryan Bertin and runner Nate Brannen have brought joy to the University with individual national titles – a feat not to be thought of lightly – with Ed Martin’s spirit still looming over the basketball program, the surprising and unfortunate “resignation” of Sue Guevara and another season of Pasadena-less football, there was not much for those who reside between Pierpoint Commons and Crisler Arena to be happy about.
That’s why yesterday was needed.
Yesterday was needed so that Ortmeyer, Shouneyia, Swistak, Mark Mink and Mike Roemensky could leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that they were still as good, if not better, than last year’s team with Cammalleri. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and there was no image more novel-esque than watching Ortmeyer, Shouneyia and Roemensky receive wave upon wave of curtain calls from the stands.
“Our fans are arguably the best in the country and to win our last game at Yost is something special,” Ortmeyer said. “We didn’t really want to get off the ice. It’s an amazing feeling, and to have our fans celebrate with us has been a great ride.”
Yesterday was needed to free Gajic from any failures he has had in the past, as he scored an opportunistic goal to tie Colorado College at two in the second period. He said after the game that even though he was two feet away from the goal, when the puck left his stick, it felt like “an hour and a half” before it went in.
“When you’re a team that doesn’t go through any hardships and you go through the year nice and everything’s copasetic – and then something does happen, and you don’t know how to deal with it,” Gajic said. “With all our injuries and everything else happening … if something bad happens, we’re able to handle it because we’ve been through it. It was nice knowing that we could go through all of that and still pull it off.”
Yesterday was needed to give the defense an identity – other than the one characterized by blowing third period leads. There was hardly a happier man than Burnes after the game. He and the rest of the defensemen couldn’t have played any tougher down the stretch after giving up two early, and somewhat easy, powerplay goals. When a mistake was made, Burnes was the one driving that mistake into the boards never to be seen again. When a puck needed to be cleared, it was players like Roemensky – who had his problems against Maine on Saturday doing so – making sure that shorthanded opportunities were created, like the one Mink took advantage of.
Most of all, the University lept up into one collective cheer yesterday. When the players mobbed each other on the bench after Mink’s empty-netter, the fans were there with them.
“It was awesome, I just wanted to get on the pile on the bench,” sophomore Eric Nystrom said. “It’s just the best feeling … I think I hurt (Brandon) Rogers after the goal was scored – I came in and tackled him.”
After that celebration and the game was over, each Wolverine took turns giving each other hugs. Mink hugged Rogers, Nystrom and Richmond embraced and the top line of Ortmeyer, Shouneyia and Jeff Tambellini mauled each other in celebration. Michigan hockey became the University’s best team yesterday and any problem waiting to come down and depress the Michigan athletic department is now going to have to wait, because this is a time to remember, not to forget.
– Kyle is hoping Michigan’s success carries over to the Tigers of Detroit today at 1:05 p.m. Please contact him at email@example.com.