Every single member of the Michigan hockey team, excluding freshmen, enters Friday’s first-round game against Cornell with NCAA Tournament experience. But one of those first-year players will feel right at home when the Wolverines take the ice in Green Bay, Wisc. this weekend.
Freshman forward Travis Lynch played two years of junior hockey with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League prior to coming to Ann Arbor this year. So more than just the Wolverines’ No. 1 seed in the Midwest bracket thrilled him during Sunday’s Selection Show.
“It’s going to be fun (to return),” Lynch said. “I’m pretty excited to get back in the Resch Center. It’s going to be a good time.”
After Lynch graduated from Lakeland High School in White Lake, Mich., the Gamblers selected him with their fifth-round pick in the 2009 USHL draft. That summer, Lynch arrived in Green Bay for a tryout and later earned a spot on the roster.
Friends and adopted family anxiously await Lynch’s return to Green Bay. During his stay in Green Bay, Lynch lived with a host family. His face brightens when he speaks about seeing them again this weekend.
“I actually still keep in touch with them today,” Lynch said. “I stayed (with them) for two years and it was definitely a good experience.”
The defining moment of Lynch’s USHL career came on the same rink that Michigan hopes to win two games on this weekend, in order to advance to the Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla. There, Lynch and the Gamblers hoisted the Clark Cup, awarded to the league’s playoff champion.
“It was crazy,” Lynch said of the series-clinching victory. “It was a packed house — about 8,400 people. (It was) really loud, and we came from behind and won it.”
Michigan coach Red Berenson doesn’t anticipate the same type of atmosphere for this weekend’s Midwest Regional. The Green Bay fans might rally behind a hometown winner, but throw four teams from across the country into the mix and travel plans make attendance figures look dicey. After playing in front of sold-out crowds at Joe Louis Arena this season, the atmosphere in the 10,200-seat Resch Center won’t compare, despite the tournament environment.
“I can’t tell you we’re going to have a full building in Green Bay,” Berenson said. “(Last year in St. Louis), there weren’t 5,000 people in a 20,000-seat building. It was unbelievable. There was nobody there.”
“There (are) cases where you’ve got to generate your own atmosphere, just to keep everybody excited and in the game when nobody’s in the building. … Even though no one’s there, it’s the biggest game of their career — it could be their last game of their career.”
Berenson would like the familiar arena to provide Lynch with an increase in production. After a lightning-fast start to the season, Lynch’s stick has fallen silent and he’s recorded just two points in his last 15 games. He hasn’t found the back of the net since the first weekend in January.
“He’ll be more comfortable, more familiar, with the rink and the situation,” Berenson said. “He’ll have friends there. … He likes the building.”
Lynch wasn’t instrumental during the Gamblers’ run to the 2009 USHL championship, though he did score twice in the postseason. But the next year, after adjusting to life in the top-tier junior leagues, Lynch’s scoring took off, and he doubled his production from 22 points to 44 points.
“When we won, we weren’t the best team going into the finals,” Lynch said. “(We) just were working hard, making the right plays and trying to make the least amount of mistakes.”
For better or worse, Lynch won’t be able to escape the familiar this weekend. He’ll look up in the crowd and see friends and his host family — Lynch expects a lot of ticket requests.
But the opposing bench might hold some familiar faces as well. If the Wolverines are able to advance out of the regional semifinal, they will face either Ferris State, a team Michigan has already beaten twice this season, or Denver. Ferris State’s Scott Czarnowczan and Denver’s David Makowski both played alongside Lynch in Green Bay, so no matter where he looks, he’ll be in his element.