The Michigan hockey team honors its departing players every year on senior night, which is usually on the last home game of the year. But for this year”s class of Josh Blackburn, Kevin O”Malley, Craig Murray and Jay Vancik, the significance of the event never set in until now.
The four seniors will take part in the festivities following the conclusion of Michigan”s two-game series against Ohio State this weekend.
“For the past three years we”ve watched Senior Night and pretty much counted our lucky stars that it wasn”t us that had to move on,” O”Malley said. “It”s tough to think of having to leave this great lifestyle that we have of hockey and school and go in to the real world.”
In its three years with the Maize and Blue, this current crop of seniors captured a CCHA playoff title in 1999, a CCHA regular season title in 2000 and a Frozen Four appearance last year.
But, there”s one goal that has eluded them.
“You”re never going to be remembered as a class until you get a national championship,” O”Malley said.
Said Vancik on the hopes for the rest of the year: “(We want to win) another regular season championship, a playoff championship and an NCAA championship that”s the goal for our class and for every guy on this team.”
Blackburn has been a starter in goal since he arrived as a freshman, posting 82 wins. But the rest of the class has been relatively unheralded. O”Malley, the backup goaltender, has had limited playing time currently holding a 9-5-0 career record.
Meanwhile, Vancik was benched for the second half of his freshman year, but has since battled his way up the ladder to become Michigan”s most reliable defenseman this year. Murray, too, missed a large number of games early in his career due to injuries, but he has also become a steady fixture in Michigan”s lineup.
“It”s been a good class,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “They took some hits with (Mike) Comrie and (Jeff) Jillson leaving (early for the NHL), but they”ve persevered.”
There”s little doubt that this will be an emotional weekend for No. 9 Michigan and its seniors, but it is also a significant weekend in the overall scheme of things. Tied with Michigan State for first in the CCHA and ranked 10th in the Pairwise Rankings, the Wolverines need two victories over a pesky Ohio State team to assure a top two finish in the conference.
Ohio State sits in sixth place in the CCHA, one point ahead of Western Michigan the top six teams host first round playoff series. The Buckeyes had been winless in their last seven games (0-5-2) before sweeping Ferris State.
“They”ve been a team that”s all over the map,” Berenson said. I think they”re a lot better than their record they”re a deceiving team.”
Said Murray: “We know if we falter that one game could cost us the title. With four games left, we just need everyone to put it all on the line.”