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Season Recap: The 2021-22 Michigan hockey team came up just shy of lofty expectations

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Team 100 fell short of the ultimate goal, but left an indelible mark on the program.

NCAA Hockey: Frozen Four Semifinals-Michigan vs Denver Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

How close was Team 100 to Michigan’s first National Championship in over 20 years? One power play? One rolled puck on the stick of Luke Hughes?

The Wolverines lost in the Frozen Four in overtime to a Denver team who just won the title by four goals against Minnesota State. Single elimination hockey is unforgiving and although I still believe the Wolverines were the best team in college hockey this season, they are not champions.

Despite falling short in the NCAA Tournament, this season was far from a disappointment for a Michigan team that was anointed as the team after a catalytic triumvirate set forth towering expectations.

Following a COVID-19 induced forfeit in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, the Wolverines were left wondering what could have been as the Massachusetts Minutemen claimed their first national title in school history.

When four of the top five picks (Owen Power pick No. 1, Matty Beniers pick No. 2, Luke Hughes pick No. 4, Kent Johnson pick No. 5) in the subsequent NHL Draft were current or soon-to-be Michigan Wolverines, the “what if” feeling only intensified surrounding the program.

When all four decided to spend this year in Ann Arbor together, the playful hopefulness quickly turned into pressure.

Olympian and former world record holder Michael Johnson once said, “Pressure is the shadow of great opportunity.” For a generationally talented team that also featured another first round pick — incoming freshman Mackie Samoskevich — and returning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Thomas Bordeleau, this team relished living in the shadows.

Michigan began the season on a tear by winning 11 of the first 13 games and beating three future NCAA Tournament teams before Halloween. The Wolverines defeated Minnesota-Duluth and national runner-up Minnesota State in back-to-back nights at the Ice Breaker Tournament in Duluth and split a two-game series against Western Michigan.

Michigan endured frequent player departures during the season due to U-18 National team play, as well as losing four players to Olympic participation in early 2022. Despite these untimely absences, the Wolverines proved their depth and even went undefeated while Power, Beniers, Johnson and Brendan Brisson were representing their respective countries in Beijing.

Over the course of the season, Michigan would sweep a weekend series against the defending national champions, sweep Michigan State across six games and finish second in regular season conference play.

During the conference tournament, the Wolverines finally exorcised the leprechaun demon that had plagued them all season. Notre Dame was a dominant 4-0 against Michigan during the regular season and proved to be a kryptonic problem to this super team.

When Michigan finally overcame the Irish in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, it seemed like nothing was going stop this team in the postseason. And after beating Minnesota in Minneapolis to win Michigan’s first Big Ten Conference Tournament and earning the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, these sentiments were only strengthened.

The following week, the Wolverines rolled over American International College and Quinnipiac in the Allentown Regional of the NCAA Tournament to reach their first Frozen Four since 2018. While Michigan’s season prematurely ended against the Pioneers, the Wolverines displayed heart worthy of a champion while overcoming two one-goal deficits and negating a gaping penalty discrepancy.

This season was one of the most memorable and enjoyable in recent memory. The hype surrounding the program all season was intoxicating and the Children of Yost were chaotic in their return to the arena.

On the ice, Beniers led the conference in scoring and was named a first team All-American. Power was Tim Duncan-esque in his quiet dominance and Hughes delighted with highlight reel goals and rewrote the Michigan record book for a freshman defensemen.

Off the ice, the team was even more entertaining and memorable. Bordy’s pregame outfits were the stuff of GQ legends, and every fan has a favorite look. Captain Nick Blankenburg’s mullet proved even if you are not crazy about vegetables, there was no denying his lettuce.

I will miss Team 100 for obvious reasons, but more than any other, I’ll miss watching the comradery and genuine friendship shared between the fellas.

This team has already begun its annual attrition and next year’s team will be without more than just graduating upperclassmen. The three sophomores that comprised three of Michigan’s four top five picks have already signed their NHL contracts.

Owen Power has joined the Buffalo Sabres, Kent Johnson has joined the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Matty Beniers has joined the Seattle Krakken. While it remains to be seen who will join the departed or who will even be the head coach next season if Mel Pearson is not retained, the 2022-23 team already has cornerstone pieces expected to return.

Hughes, Bordeleau, Brisson and Samoskevich are four of the expected returners. Sophomore goalie Erik Portillo also officially announced his decision to return. Joining this group will be another talented crop of freshmen and a new wave of expectations and shadows.

Team 101 may not be the best team on paper next season, but they could be a championship team.