They stepped off the ice, one by one, each at his own pace.
Bill Trainor opened the door and walked briskly through it, down the tunnel with nary a look back.
L.J. Scarpace walked away with a grin. Josh Langfeld wore a pained expression, having left it all on the Yost ice after one last post-practice drill.
And then there were two. Dave Huntzicker leaned on the bench boards like a sheriff occasionally glancing at fellow senior defenseman Bob Gassoff, who was strolling around the ice, every so often throwing a look upwards at the maize and blue bannered-heavens.
A few minutes later, with the zamboni creeping turtle-like along the south-end ice and Gassoff the lone skater on the carved-up frozen pond, the spirited defenseman decided it was time.
The senior tapped the ice off his stick, lifted his head, closed the door and on behalf of the Michigan hockey team”s senior class called it a legacy.
“I can”t imagine it means as much to me as anybody else,” Gassoff said. “I”m very appreciative, very fortunate to have been a part of this university and this program. This has been some of the greatest four years of my life and it”s sad to know that this is the last practice.”
As Gassoff pointed out, “it”s been a season of lasts” for the seniors. The last game at Yost Arena, the last CCHA Championship game, the last practice at Yost it”s a dramatic time for every senior class.
But with this year”s unlikely Frozen Four berth, there”s a sense of destiny shrouding this team. Can the seniors fulfill the enormous promise of their unlikely freshman title run? Could it be the magic of “98 all over again?
“There are a lot of similarities,” captain Geoff Koch said. At the same time, “chemistry-wise, this is a closer group of guys than in “98 this team is more universal. It”s just one big class, one big team that stands out.”
Like the “98 Wolverines, this year”s team did not take the high road to college hockey”s most hallowed weekend. The team struggled all season losses against league featherweights, Alaska-Fairbanks, Ferris State and Lake Superior, compounded Michigan”s problems against Michigan State. The Spartans put the Wolverines in a sleeper-hold in four out of their five meetings this season.
If you panicked at Michigan”s showings, you were not alone. But consider this: In going 0-for-4 against Michigan State in “98, the Wolverines were outscored 18-7. Much like this year”s 33-4-4 Spartans, the “98 Michigan State team sashayed into the NCAA Tournament having lost just six games all season.
Add to that a loss and tie against Ferris State and a loss to Ohio State in the CCHA Tournament and the song sounds familiar.
“This team is probably not as heralded as the “98 team because of the losses,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “But the “98 team wasn”t as highly heralded as the (Frozen Four semifinalist) “97 team. We lost three good players from the “97 team and who gave “98 a chance?
“When Mike Comrie left (this year), a lot of people thought we couldn”t win. Nobody knew Andy Hilbert was going to be the player he was or that Mike Cammalleri would jump up and score 28 goals.”
Much like “98, the Wolverines nosedived into this year”s tournament. In “98, Michigan lost five of its last nine games before the NCAA Tournament. This year, the Wolverines improved slightly, winning five out of their final ten games.
“It”s how your team comes together in the stretch run,” Berenson said.
And for a senior class that”s not yet ready to pack it up, that”s a lesson they”ve learned before.