DETROIT — As the Michigan defense held the puck against the boards for the last 10 seconds of the CCHA Championship, the crescendo of the raucous celebration in the Upper Bowl of Joe Louis Arena reached a frenzied level.

It wasn’t so much cheering. It felt like so much more than the millionth-or-so time I sang “The Victors” or chanted “It’s Great To Be A Michigan Wolverine.”

It was a release.

I’ve been to football games at almost every Big Ten stadium, a slew of bowl games, last year’s NCAA basketball tournament and the 2008 Frozen Four. Nothing felt like this.

Because — unlike any other Michigan sporting event in the last 50-odd years — there was nothing to be taken for granted. A win wasn’t expected; in fact, most Michigan fans (including myself, for purposes of full disclosure) had written off the hockey team as a major disappointment.

Michigan fans’ desperation for something — anything — good had reached such sky-high levels before the occurance at the Joe this weekend that, when Michigan coach Red Berenson thanked the fans during the team’s on-ice celebration, it was almost enough to completely make up for the rest of the school year’s unfulfillment.

It was a giant “Whew” moment, one that this fanbase has been waiting for since the Notre Dame football game back in the fall.

I hate to say this Michigan fans, but as much as this major sports slump has sucked, and as much as 2009-10 has felt like The Year That The Michigan Athletic Department Has Forgotten, it’s been a very, very good experience for the maize-and-blue faithful in the long run.

It doesn’t feel like it right now, but I promise it will be.

It’ll be worth it when the football team finally rights the ship.

It’ll be worth it when the basketball team finally finds a level of consistency.

And it was absolutely, 100 percent worth it Saturday night, when the enormous Michigan student contingent was on the verge of tears in celebration.

First of all, this slump will help Michigan fans — one of the most win-hungry fanbases in the country — appreciate wins a little more. The difference between the amount of students that came to the Joe this year for the CCHA Finals compared to the last two years was remarkable.

Hockey fans are some of the most dedicated on campus, but even so, there’s only one reason for this drastic change in attendance: With constant winning comes complacent fans.

This win feels good because it was unexpected. Even though Michigan had the talent to win the CCHA Championship all season, finally seeing them reach said potential was one of the best sports experiences I’ve had as a student at Michigan.

The word “arrogant” gets thrown out a lot about the Michigan faithful. And to some extent, I accept and embrace the term. We, as fans, deserve to be cocky. Michigan football and hockey are two of the most storied programs in college athletics history. So, of course, we should expect to win.

But with that expectation comes a certain dullness with every victory. If the Wolverines win, they were supposed to. If they lose, it’s a freaking travesty — it’s almost a lose-lose situation as a fan.

But now our fandom has been tested — and tested and tested and tested. The fair-weather ones are gone, and what’s left is a hardcore group, the most dedicated Michigan fan base in recent memory. Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, what has risen from Michigan’s recent mediocrity are real, blue-blooded fans.

I saw that last night, as completely random strangers threw their arms around each other in celebration — one that has felt better than any other victory in a long time.

And that’s the reward for those Michigan fans who have stuck around.

Future wins are going to feel just like Saturday night. Special.

— Reid is trying to find a cheap way to attend the Midwest Regional games. Regardless, he’ll be at the Frozen Four when Michigan makes it. He can be reached at andyreid@umich.edu.

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