One and done; much like writing hockey

Ice Hockey
Juniors Jeff Tambellini and Brandon Kaleniecki air-hug after the game-winning goal last Saturday.
(RYAN WEINER/Daily)

By Ian Herbert: Caught up in the Game

 

So as I sat down to write this column, I realized something shocking. I realized that, from now on, every hockey column I write might be my last. I am truly in a one-and-done situation.

It’s a hard situation for a writer to be in because I don’t know if I’m ready for this season to be over. The truth is that I’ve been covering this hockey team since the end of September, and I’ve put every ounce of time and energy that I have into my work (If you don’t believe me, just ask my girlfriend, my mom or my roommates).

The season started just weeks after football (and long before basketball), and, in case you haven’t noticed, basketball ended shortly after spring break. We’re still going strong. I remember going to the CCHA Media Day and talking to Michigan coach Red Berenson for the first time. At that time, I was nervous to talk to him. My writing was still unpolished, and I still needed to learn all the hockey plays. I still needed to get to know the older guys — the players who were already part of the program. I wanted so badly to impress Coach on the first day of practice. But that was just the first day, and it was probably impossible. Coach knew I was new to the team, and he just wanted to get a look at me and see what I could do — see what my potential was — as a writer.

And that was half a year ago. I was told in October that the hockey season was long. But I’ve grown so much since then. I’ve learned so much about the players, so much about the lines and so much about Coach. I’ve become a much better hockey writer since I joined the team back in September.

And that’s why there’s so much pressure on this next column that I have to write. Because I’ve put so much into this season. I’ve worked every week to improve on my writing, not just to make me a better hockey writer but also to make my team better — to make the Daily better. I’ve spent long hours at the paper, thinking over sentence structure and practicing my writing. I’ve spent extra time in the weight room — well, with my work at the paper, there hasn’t been a whole lot of time for the weight room, but I’ve certainly spent extra time in the mental weight room.

My stories have gotten better and better each week. At the beginning of the year, I was looking ahead — maybe too far ahead — to this point. This is where I wanted to be with my writing when the team made it to the NCAA Tournament — at the very top of my game. My sentences are certainly crisp, my punctuation is pretty polished and my alliteration — well, let’s just say that my writing is alliteratively all right. I work well with the guys on my beat, and we’re able to pass stories back and forth, throw ideas off the boards and save each other from letting soft stories by.

This is where you end up after six months of hard practicing. The truth is that my fingers are sore and blistered, my brain is tired and my tank is almost out of gas. But that’s what the offseason is for. Right now, all I can focus on is the next game. I want so badly to be peaking at the right time.

I want so badly for my next story to be my best. Because my next hockey column could be my last. I’ve realized that now, and I’ve tried to come to grips with it.

Yet I don’t know what I’m going to say to my beatmates when we get together before the next game. The truth is that all three of them know how important each game is from here on out, and I probably don’t have to say anything. But I feel the need to say something. Because what if they don’t step it up. We don’t get a second chance to make a run at a national championship. If we screw up now, the season will be over and our final stories as hockey beat writers will not be our best work. And then there’s nothing you can do about that. Once it’s over, it’s over.

So this week, I’ve gone through some extra precautions. I’ve been very careful to do everything the right way — not just extra work on my writing skills, but also other things that are just as important. For instance, I’ve kept two pens in my pocket all week — one red and one blue. It’s a superstition that I always have, but this week it’s even more important. I’m starting to grow a hockey mullet, and I really should get a haircut. But I can’t get one quite yet — cutting my hair at this point in the season would just be bad luck (even though I will keep shaving).

So, my superstitions are out of control, my nerves are all out of whack, my muscles ache, and I can’t sleep. I don’t know what’s making me feel like this, but I think it has something to do with the fact that my writing is now in a classic one-and-done situation.

I just hope that this weekend isn’t my last week of covering hockey, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure I can keep writing this season.

 

Ian Herbert can be reached at iherbert@umich.edu.

 

 

 

Blue preps for each must-win

By Jake Rosenwasser, Daily Sports Writer

 

This Michigan hockey team expected to make the NCAA tournament from its first practice. How could it not? Michigan was the preseason No. 1 team in the nation, and, on top of that, the Wolverines had made a record 14 straight NCAA tournaments.

Sure enough, Michigan will play Wisconsin in the Wolverines’ 15th straight NCAA tournament tonight in Grand Rapids.

After dropping its first game of the season to Northeastern, Michigan reeled off nine wins in its next 11 games. So, by the middle of November, it was pretty clear that, barring a monumental second half collapse, Michigan would be playing again in the late-March tournament.

Because of that fast start, the Wolverines haven’t played a must-win game all season. And now, due to the nature of the single-elimination NCAA tournament, every game could be their last.

“You definitely have to show up and play your best game,” Michigan senior Brandon Rogers said. “You have to be ready right from the drop of the puck. If you’re not ready to go from the start, the other team is definitely going to be.”

But for the last 10 years, Michigan has been ready when the first puck dropped. The Wolverines have won at least the first game of the national tournament for 10 straight years.

“We have an experienced bunch of guys,” Michigan captain Eric Nystrom said. “So keeping guys loose is not going to be a big issue. It’s just making sure we’re ready to play our best game.”

And another best game. And another. And another. Each of the 16 teams in the tournament is just four wins away from a national championship.

“One-and-done is definitely more exciting than a seven-game series,” Nystrom said.

Michigan coach Red Berenson doesn’t have any trouble bridging the two playoff formats.

“It’s like the seventh game,” Berenson said. “You just don’t have to play the other six.”

Because of the NCAA pit-in-your-stomach format, Berenson expects to see his players exhibit a few distinct traits.

“There won’t be a lot of relaxing,” Berenson said. “(I want to see) a combination of preparation, confidence and desperation. The good thing, and the thing I like about this team, is that they all played in NCAA games last year — all but two (freshmen). And those were as tough a games as you’re going to play — (against) New Hampshire and against Boston College.”

After getting by New Hampshire in Manchester, N.H., 4-1 in the first round, Michigan dropped a 3-2 decision to Boston College in overtime.

For Michigan’s 10 seniors, their fourth NCAA tournament will be their last. And each time they put on their jersey before the game, it could be final time they put on the Maize and Blue.

“We know what we have to do,” senior Milan Gajic said. “We’ve been through this before. It’s not too big of a mystery. We’re a bunch of veterans.

“Through all my hockey experience, until I came to college, we never had a one-and-done thing. Its always been a series. It makes every game a lot more important. It makes every play stand out more. All the screw-ups are magnified, so you have to be ready to play. You can’t take a shift or a game off, because you have no second chance.”

 

The Rest of the Region

Colorado College Tigers

No. 1 seed — Colorado Springs, Colo. (WCHA)

Coach: Scott Owens

Record: 19-7-2 WCHA, 29-8-3 overall

Leading Scorers: Junior forwards Brett Sterling (61 points-32 goals-29 assists) and Marty Sertich (61-25-36)

Goaltenders: Senior Curtis McElhinney (19-3-1, 1.93 GAA, .934 save percentage) and sophomore Matt Zaba (10-5-2, 2.46, .916)

The Skinny: Colorado College tied Denver for the WCHA’s best record, but, despite being ranked No. 1 in the nation, the Tigers received the second seed in the WCHA Tournament. Colorado College also found itself trailing the Pioneers when the final horn sounded in the WCHA championship game, which the Tigers dropped by a score of 1-0. Colorado College had defeated Minnesota, 3-0, to earn a spot in the final. The Tigers, now No. 3, were led this season by the high-scoring duo of Sterling and Sertich, as well as the rock-solid goaltending of McElhinney. Still, Colorado College hasn’t won more than four games in a row since December.

 

Wisconsin Badgers

No. 3 seed — Madison, Wisc. (WCHA)

Coach: Mike Eaves

Record: 16-9-3 WCHA, 23-13-4 overall

Leading Scorer: Freshman forward Joe Pavelski (45 points-16 goals-29 assists)

Goaltender: Senior Bernd Brückler (17-11-3, 2.35 GAA, .916 save percentage)

The Skinny: The Badgers tied with Minnesota for third place in the WCHA and grabbed the fourth seed in its conference tournament. But the Badgers lost the play-in game against North Dakota for a spot in the semifinals. On Nov. 27, then-No. 2 Wisconsin hosted and defeated then-No. 1 Michigan in the College Hockey Showcase, 3-1. Michigan was without key contributors T.J. Hensick and Eric Nystrom for the contest, which, combined with the Wolverines’ loss the previous night at Minnesota, started and ended Michigan’s only losing streak of the season (0-2-0). Wisconsin, now ranked No. 13, is in the midst of a disappointing 3-7-3 stretch, but eight of those games were played against NCAA Tournament teams Minnesota (No. 7), Denver (No. 1), Colorado College (No. 3) and North Dakota (No. 10).

 

 

Colgate Raiders

No. 4 seed — Hamilton, N.Y. (ECAC)

Coach: Don Vaughan

Record: 14-5-3 ECAC, 25-10-3 overall

Leading Scorer: Freshman forward Tyler Burton (34 points-19 goals-15 assists)

Goaltender: Senior Steve Silverthorn (24-9-3, 1.77 GAA, .925 save percentage)

The Skinny: The Raiders finished in third place in the ECAC, trailing only Cornell and Harvard. After losing to Harvard in a double-overtime ECAC Tournament semifinal game, Colgate edged Vermont, 2-1, to win the conference’s third-place game and secure an NCAA at-large bid. Since Jan. 22, the Raiders have compiled an unimpressive 7-5-3 record, but the slump immediately followed an 11-1-0 surge beginning at Thanksgiving.

 

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