Much like Zach did with his great basketball piece, I've been working on this for some time, but have let it just sit around for various reasons. Well, it's time for this thing to go, but it won't be nearly as eloquent as Zach's piece, and it isn't a paean to a program that is resurrecting itself. This is called a postmortem for obvious reasons.
In the interest of full disclosure, I did not watch Michigan hockey from the beginning of the season; it wasn't until the series with Ohio State that I started watching. And I started writing about what the other B1G teams were doing right around the same time. Much of the positive part of the season was gone--once I started watching, the team struggled. You can blame me, I suppose.
If you've ready any of my hockey posts, you may remember that hockey is a game I grew up with, but followed only here and there in recent years. Thanks to Zach, I got back into it. I seriously owe Zach a huge thank you for encouraging me to get back into a game I loved so much as a kid.
I don't know what kind of hype there was around this year's team; sure, I was fully aware of the struggles that led to missing the tournament last year, but I had almost no idea who was coming back, who was leaving, and who was new.
What I do know is that this year's team started out hot. Michigan was ranked #10 in the country when they shocked the #4 Boston College Eagles to open the season. They followed that up with a 7-4 destruction of RIT. After tying the first game against #13 New Hampshire, the Wolverines beat them 3-2 in OT the next night and then defeated the #14 Boston Terriers. Things were looking up. Six freshmen had played up to this point and accounted for 38 points. This team was going to be something special. Or was it?
After stumbling against UMass-Lowell, Nebraska-Omaha, and the U.S. NTDP Under-18 teams (hey, they weren't going to win every game, right?), Michigan was heading into the Great Lakes Invitational, and the de facto start of the Big Ten season, with a great deal of momentum.
Instead of taking advantage of that momentum, the Wolverines fell apart, losing the next four games to Western Michigan, a shutout loss to Michigan State, and a sweep by Wisconsin. The Wolverines were able to turn it around and give a little payback to the Spartans by sweeping them in a series that was held at the Joe and in E.L. They were also able to take advantage of the rapidly-rising Badgers' road woes and win the first game of their second series and win in the shootout the next night.
Then the wheels really came off.
Going 3-0-1 in their previous four games, it looked as though Michigan remembered who they were and how to win. A 7-3 victory over the Nittany Lions on February 7th was what we thought was the confirmation. But a 4-0 shutout loss to those same Nittany Lions brought up more questions. Had the team been overachieving? Was this a fluke? Was it time for Red to go?
If it was Red's time, it wasn't going to be before a meeting with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, a team who had been a juggernaut at the #1 position for much of the season. Unfortunately, that juggernaut would continue on its path and sweep the Wolverines. Adding insult to injury, Michigan's Michael Downing and Andrew Sinelli were suspended for separate incidents against the Gophers. Not having these two men was going to have disastrous consequences.
Facing Penn State for their second series in two weeks, the absence of Downing and Sinelli was felt in yet another loss to the Lions. This time, PSU took down the Wolverines 5-4 in an overtime heartbreaker. Penn State had only two wins in the Big Ten, both of them coming at the expense of Michigan.
The loss to Penn State was the beginning of an up and down month to finish out the season. Michigan would come back and beat the Lions the following night. But with a shootout loss to the Buckeyes, followed by splits with the Spartans and Gophers, the regular season ended on a roller coaster the likes of which Cedar Point would be proud.
The lone bright spot to end the regular season was the finale win against the Gophers on senior night. Although Minnesota didn't necessarily have a ton to play for, it was still great to see Michigan have their way with the best team in the country. It was bittersweet, however: we knew it would be the last time in Yost for captain Mac Bennett, and the team's performance left us asking why we couldn't see that on a more consistent basis.
With the end of the regular season, there had been discussion and debate whether Michigan would make the NCAA Tournament. Some felt that Michigan would be out no matter how they performed. My opinion was that Michigan would have to get through Minnesota in the B1G Tournament; if they could do that, they'd be a sure-thing for the NCAA tournament. But they would have to face the Nittany Lions one more time in the opening round of the inaugural B1G Tournament.
After a scoreless first period, each team was able to score only one time the rest of the way. After one OT session, the score remained knotted at one, and the advantage should have been with Michigan as time went on. However, PSU's Zach Saar was able to send Michigan home at the 12:47 mark of the second extra frame. Just like that it was over, and I'll remember Zach Nagelvoort's slumping reaction to the end of my days. If you missed it, please share the pain at 3:50 of the video...
The NCAA bracket was announced on March 23rd, and for the second year in a row Michigan was nowhere to be found. What now? What did this season mean?
Since taking the reigns in 1984, Red Berenson has had nothing but success in Ann Arbor. Now he's missed the tournament in consecutive seasons. He had said that the last contract he signed would be the last one he would sign with Michigan, so we know the end is in sight.
We often talk about legendary coaches who have done so much for a particular program that they can decide when it's time to step down; no one is going to tell them when it's time. If Red Berenson doesn't fit into that category, I don't know who does. I was never a fan of calling for Red to walk away or for the university to fire him, and we now know that he will indeed return for what will probably be his final season at Michigan in 2014-2015.
So, the Red Baron is returning to Ann Arbor, but he'll be there without Alex Guptill and Phil DiGiuseppe who have departed early for the NHL. It is quite possible that those departures leave this team in better hands; let's debate that another day, though.
It is encouraging to see that Andrew Copp has been selected as the team's captain for 2014-2015.
I feel honored and grateful for the opportunity to be the Michigan Captain, and to carry on the tradition and legacy that has come before me— Andrew Copp (@Copp94) April 5, 2014
In addition to Copp being the captain, senior Zach Hyman and sophomore JT Compher will be alternate captains.
Let's finally answer what all of this means for Michigan hockey going forward: it means that, no matter what happens, our favorite hockey team is still in very capable hands. Red Berenson has spoiled Michigan hockey fans during his tenure; a tenure that has built up more than enough good will to weather these last two seasons. We've seen baseball guys like Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter go on "farewell tours", so maybe next season will be Red's "Hail!-well tour" sending one of the all-time greatest of the Leaders and Best out on top.