It’s not going to be easy for Michigan hockey fans to get to St. Paul for the Frozen Four starting on April 4, but Michigan coach Red Berenson is certain that plenty of folks from Ann Arbor will be making the pilgrimage.
“I think there will be a lot of people that find a way to get there,” Berenson said. “We considered busing or driving as a team, so it’s reachable. I’ve driven to Minneapolis, gone to a high school hockey game, and driven back in one night. I think people that want to go will make it there.”
The Wolverines finalized their travel plans yesterday, so now Berenson and the rest of the team can begin to focus on Minnesota, the Wolverines’ opponent in the semifinals.
The Golden Gophers improved to 2-0 at Yost Ice Arena this season when they knocked off the West Regional’s No. 6 seed, Colorado College, 4-2 on Saturday.
“It was a good game,” Berenson said. “Colorado didn’t have the legs that Minnesota did.
“It didn’t have the magic or the edge that a Michigan (versus) Minnesota game will have.”
Michigan was the other team to fall victim to the Golden Gophers at Yost this season, dropping a 5-2 decision on Nov. 23, 2001 in the College Hockey Showcase.
In that game, Minnesota scored three goals in the opening 6:51 of the first period and never looked back, as forward Jeff Taffe finished with a hat trick.
“Well, we keyed on Taffe and we obviously didn’t do a good job,” Michigan forward Eric Nystrom said. “We’ve got to shut down their key players and play a better defensive game – I think at this point we’re a better defensive team than we were at that point in the season.”
“We know that they’re a good team based on our experience with them this year, and the fact that we’ve played them every year for the past seven or eight years in the College Hockey Showcase,” Berenson said. “We know what kind of a team they are, and the kind of team they can be.”
In addition to having their hands full with Minnesota on the ice, the Wolverines will have to deal with the boost the Golden Gophers will receive off of it.
With the Frozen Four being played in St. Paul, the Wolverines get to experience what St. Cloud and Denver faced at the West Regional. The Golden Gophers are expecting the Xcel Energy Center to be full of rowdy pro-Minnesota fans.
But Michigan has been spectacular on the road this season, posting a record of 9-1-3. The Wolverines also have the experience of the “Cold War” game against Michigan State in their back pockets. In that game, the Wolverines played to a 3-3 tie with the Spartans, despite over 70,000 fans packed into Spartan Stadium cheering on the home team.
“I think it’s very helpful,” said Ryznar of the “Cold War” experience. “I think our team really thrives on that type of environment with the fans against us – we play our best hockey.
“It’s going to be tough in Minnesota, against Minnesota, but I think it’ll be a good game hopefully. If we stick together as a team, we’re going to do pretty good.”
Michigan has a lot of time to stick together. With a two-week break between the West Regional and the Frozen Four, this is a rare opportunity to get a weekend off from games. The Wolverines have played at least one game every weekend since getting the weekend of Dec. 21-22 off.
“I think that will be good for our team,” Ryznar said. “It’ll be a chance to regroup and it’ll give us a chance to rest, which we’ll need.”