In 1961, the Michigan hockey team, led by then-senior Red Berenson, jumped out to an amazing 16-1 start.
This year’s Wolverine squad, with Berenson behind the bench, has recorded its best start since (13-1).
While Berenson couldn’t remember the specifics from 46 years ago, he does remember how important chemistry is to a team’s success.
“The playing time is your best time,” Berenson said. “When you’re player and your team is doing well, it’s like a big family. And you can sense the fun that they’re having with their success. And you’re going to school. I mean, it’s the best time of your life.”
But the low expectations that come with having a generally unrecognizable roster could be Michigan’s biggest strength. Some on the team attribute the Wolverines’ start to an easy schedule – Minnesota is the only team Michigan has played with a winning record – but the early-season success the Wolverines have enjoyed wouldn’t have been possible without the key contributions from all of the 12 freshmen on this year’s roster.
Freshmen like forwards Max Pacioretty (12 points, plus-11) and Carl Hagelin (eight points, plus-nine) and defenseman Chad Langlais (plus-six) have made a significant impact in all 14 games so far, but no single freshman has built up more star power than the others yet.
In years prior, the Wolverines boasted big names like Jack Johnson, Jeff Tambellini and Brendan Morrison. With so many freshmen, Michigan has risen beyond individual honors, freshman Matt Rust said.
“There’s just something there that you know everyone wants to come together and have the team be successful,” Rust said. “I mean, a lot of teams have certain individuals that want to do better, and kind of concentrate on their own. But I think our team has really come together.”
Added fellow freshman Scooter Vaughan: “We’re just 26 guys getting along and having fun and winning.”
Even though players say individual honors aren’t a hot topic in the locker room, it’s not exactly a secret that senior Kevin Porter is an early candidate for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s version of football’s Heisman Trophy.
But instead of becoming a bigger-than-the-team personality, Porter has used his leadership role to bring the team closer. Many on the team throw out the word “family” to describe the bond the Wolverines have formed, even with the individual honors Porter has picked up through the weeks.
“The media is always quick to surround the players that are doing well,” Berenson said. “All of a sudden they’re getting a lot of attention, and then other players can get jealous or feel left out or feel unimportant. Even with the success of Porter, this team is sticking together as a team. They’re all about ‘we.’ “
The question, then, becomes how long can Michigan keep this pace up before its youth catches up? With four games against CCHA bottom dwellers Ohio State and Bowling Green – three of which will be in Yost Ice Arena – before the Great Lakes Invitational, the Wolverines could be looking to break the mark Berenson and Co. set his senior season.
“Who would’ve known with these freshmen, with this group of guys, that we’d be doing what we’re doing?” Berenson said.