DENVER –

During Michigan’s 8-5 loss to North Dakota Saturday night, the third period couldn’t go by fast enough.

I just wanted it to be over.

It was clear the Fighting Sioux were going to walk away as victors for the second straight year. After the offensive mayhem of the first two periods, North Dakota had a two-goal lead, and all it had to do to win was buckle down and play defense.

But as much as those 20 minutes of neutral-zone trapping dragged on, it was even worse to think about how quickly the past four years have gone by – and how myself and the rest of the class of 2007 will graduate without a trip to the Frozen Four.

It’s hard to believe this talented crop of seniors never made it to that pinnacle of college hockey.

T.J. Hensick never made it to the Frozen Four. Matt Hunwick never made it to the Frozen Four. David Rohlfs never made it to the Frozen Four.

The way things had been recently at Michigan, you were almost guaranteed a trip to the Frozen Four. The Wolverines had made it there seven times in the past 16 years.

These seniors will be the first group since the class of 1991 to graduate without going that far.

“It’s a sad statement that this team wasn’t better, or didn’t prove they were better,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said.

Berenson really hit the nail on the head with that last statement. All four years, this team had most, if not all, of the tools for postseason success. It was really just about using them correctly.

They came the closest two years ago, when Hunwick and his classmates were sophomores. If only they hadn’t let a 3-0 lead over Colorado College slip away in the second period of the NCAA Midwest Regional.

I’ll stop there, because we could spend a lot of time looking back on the past four years and saying “if only.”

(How about if only they had stopped taking stupid penalties Saturday so that North Dakota didn’t score five power-play goals? OK, I promise, I’m actually done now.)

It’s a shame because these guys are extremely good at hockey – not perfect, but good.

When Hensick signed his letter of intent at 16 in November 2002, Berenson already knew that.

“We’ve got a great young prospect in T.J. Hensick, who’s one of those players who could be special,” Berenson said at the time. “He’s very skilled and creative.”

Four years of highlight-reel moves, two Hobey Baker Award candidacies and 222 points later, we see that the word “special” may have been an understatement.

And then there’s Rohlfs, who may graduate without ever getting the recognition he deserved. He was Michigan’s steadiest player, and selfless, too. When the team ran low on defenseman last season, Berenson asked Rohlfs to move to the blue line and the hulking 6-foot-3 forward obliged without complaint. He was smart with the puck, levelheaded and did the dirty work so his star linemates could score the big goals. Wolverine fans probably don’t realize how much they’re going to miss that guy.

And Hunwick, the captain. He was slick on both ends of the ice with moves so smooth it was easy to miss how helpful he really was. His skating abilities alone will be something the Wolverines long for next season.

They’ll miss Jason Dest and Tim Cook, too, mostly for the leadership and attitude they provided. The bench will even seem different without third-string goalie Mike Mayhew and his trusty clipboard there. These guys were never stars of the game, but each were assets to the team.

That’s why it’s sad to think none of them brought a trip to the Frozen Four. Just ask Kevin Porter, Hensick’s linemate and a soon-to-be senior whose name has been tossed out as a possibility for Hunwick’s replacement as captain.

“It’s terrible,” Porter said. “I feel so bad for them. It’s a bad thing, and hopefully we can make it there next year. We’ve got a bunch of good guys coming in, we’ve got to get them to buy in right away, and then I think we have a great chance of making it.”

Careful, Kevin. It will go by faster than you think.

– Colvin doesn’t want to have to pay for a cap and gown for graduation. Donations and comments can be sent to ambermco@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.