With 20 minutes remaining in the final regular-season game of their collegiate hockey careers two weeks ago, Michigan senior forwards Travis Turnbull and Tim Miller were confused.
They grabbed their helmets, sticks and gloves, thinking they were headed back to the ice to finish off their Senior Night. They’d almost forgotten their scuffle with Ferris State players before the second intermission.
“Turnbull and I were ready to go down, and (Michigan coach Red Berenson) was like, ‘Miller, Turnbull, stay up here. You got a game disqualification,’ ” Miller said. “We were like, ‘What?’ ”
The duo was forced to watch the rest of the game from the stands, while worrying that the penalties would lead to an automatic one-game suspension — which would keep them out of the team’s first game of the CCHA Tournament this Friday.
Miller and Turnbull eventually found out they only received game misconduct penalties, so they will not serve any suspensions.
The situation is fitting — both Miller and Turnbull have played in all of Michigan’s 160 games since their freshman year. They have both battled minor injuries and illness to keep that streak alive. And neither is the kind of player who shies away from a fight.
So though it was interesting that the closest both came to a game disqualification was last weekend, it’s more surprising that neither player has ever been suspended for a game.
“We were a little worried,” Turnbull said with a laugh. “We’d never really been in that position before. We wanted to be out there so bad, especially because it was Senior Night.”
Berenson joked after the game that at least Miller and Turnbull “got to rest” on the night that honored them.
The recent ejections weren’t the only times the two have come close to breaking the streak.
Just three weeks ago, Turnbull almost missed a game against Ohio State when he woke up feeling miserable. He rushed to get medical attention, was prescribed antibiotics and played in the series.
Miller, on the other hand, has been a constant fixture on the team for nearly four years.
But three seasons ago, he had a sharp pain in his back from sleeping weirdly one night and almost missed his collegiate debut. Miller sat out a practice and had to prove he deserved a spot in the lineup on the day of the game.
And the Michigan coaching staff and their teammates are grateful that Miller and Turnbull haven’t missed games.
“Those two guys play hard, play hard every night,” Michigan assistant coach Mel Pearson said. “So it’s not that they’re just getting through games. They’re putting their bodies on the line every night.
“It goes to show the other guys that if you play hard, there’s no reason you can’t play every game. Obviously, you have to have some luck, too, with injuries and whatnot.”
The streak began when the two freshmen were third-line forwards. As the streak has progressed, their skill sets — and roles on the team — have evolved. Now, they sit just 13 games behind Ted Kramer (1989-1992), who holds Michigan’s record for games played.
In the meantime, Miller has emerged as one of the Wolverines’ top penalty killers with his tough, physical presence, anticipation and shot-blocking skills. Turnbull has flourished on the other side of special teams: the power play.
“(Miller’s) kind of the leader of the penalty kill unit,” senior goalie Billy Sauer said. “When we get a penalty in a game, he actually gets pretty excited to go out there and kill penalties. When you talk to him about it, he’s really excited about it and takes his role very seriously.
“You see the same thing with Travis and the power play. He’s always talking to guys, figuring out what they can do better.”
Both Miller and Turnbull have found success on lines with a variety of teammates this year. The two have been interchangeable at times. From top-line right winger to third-line center, they have been swapping positions all season.
Turnbull currently centers the team’s third line and sparked its recent surge. The line has scored four goals total in Michigan’s last two series.
“Wherever the coaches put us, we just try to make the line better,” Miller said. “It’s not really about getting promoted or demoted.”
In essence, the under-the-radar streak of games played encapsulates this idea of just doing their jobs. And the Wolverines are now hoping that Miller and Turnbull can add a few postseason games to their run.
“If you would have asked me, I would have assumed they missed games at some point,” Pearson said. “But I’m glad their streak is intact because we definitely need them in our first round of the playoffs.”