It was Bo Schembechler’s philosophy, but this year’s Michigan hockey team embodies that mentality better than any maize and blue squad – in any sport – in recent memory.
The Wolverines have already accomplished four of the five goals they set out for themselves at the beginning of the season:
College Hockey Showcase champions.
Great Lakes Invitational champions.
CCHA regular-season champions.
CCHA playoff champions.
This year’s Michigan team has been successful because it’s just that: a team.
The Wolverines have accomplished their goals by playing as a unit and sticking together.
“It’s been one of those teams that when they’ve made up their mind that they’re going to do something, they’ve been able to do it,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I’ve had a lot of teams come up with the same goals, but they’re lucky to accomplish any of them or many of them. But this team has found a way to do it.”
They’ve proven they can win high-scoring games, like the 6-4 win against Northern Michigan in Friday night’s semifinal.
They’ve proven they can win in a low-scoring grind-it-out goalie battle, like Saturday night’s 2-1 championship game win over Miami (Ohio).
And in those wins, they’ve proven they can come back in the third period or maintain a slim lead against relentless pressure.
Usually, Michigan wins when its top scorers, seniors Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik, take over the game. But the championship game, where the goals came from the second and fourth lines, showed that the entire team can pull its weight.
Michigan wins with its own style. And its able to play its game because everyone is on the same page. Even during a rough stretch in February, the Wolverines stuck together.
Michigan wins because that’s all it knows and that’s all it cares about. Not stats, not personal awards. Just winning as a team.
“When the game is on the line, we’re the team that wants to win,” freshman Louie Caporusso said. “We play desperate hockey when it’s needed and we won’t take no for an answer.”
The poise of Michigan’s 11-member freshman class has been the most impressive aspect of the team’s play all season. First-year players make up almost half the roster and their contributions have been crucial to Michigan’s success.
But why has this year’s freshman class contributed when so many in the past struggled to find their footing at the collegiate level? The answer is simple. From day one, Porter and Kolarik didn’t treat them as freshmen – they treated the youngsters as Wolverines.
There are no freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors this year. There is just the team.
“We talked about it Thursday night – this is our family,” junior Danny Fardig said. “We want to do everything with each other. The biggest point was that we stick together, no matter what happens.”
Caporusso, one of those first-year players, agreed.
“When you love the guy next to you and you love the guys you’re playing with, you’re going to play unbelievable hockey.”
Now, Michigan will face its toughest test, going after the fifth and final goal it set for itself before the season: a trip to the Frozen Four and a shot at the National Championship.
Before the season, no one thought this year’s team would amount to much. The Wolverines were picked by the coaches and media to finish fourth in the CCHA. Capturing the No. 1 overall seed for the tournament was such a far-fetched notion it wasn’t even worth thinking about.
Asked what he would have said in September if someone had told him Michigan would be four-for-four in accomplishing its goals so far, Kolarik didn’t hesitate.
“I would have laughed at you,” he said.
Most people would have.
But when you hear the entire roster speaking in terms of “we” and “our,” not “me” and “my,” it’s hard to doubt this team’s chances of accomplishing that last goal.
And the Wolverines – all of them – will be the ones with the last laugh.
– Sandals can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.