Sunday morning (March 20) at Yost Ice Arena was a time to look ahead. The NCAA Ice Hockey Championship selection was taking place and televised live on ESPN2. You could hear the hoots and hollers from the locker room as the Wolverines were named to play Nebraska-Omaha in the West Regional in St. Louis this Friday at 4:30 p.m. CDT (5:30 EDT).
The same city to which head coach Red Berenson returned just a few weeks ago when the St. Louis Blues honored their great No. 7s before an NHL game. A city where Red helped make hockey a relevant major league sport. A city where Berenson was named NHL Coach of the Year in 1980.
But before this team and Red could look ahead, it was important to look back about 36 hours and take to heart what happened on the ice at Joe Louis Arena.
It was a game most Michigan fans probably thought the Michigan ice hockey team would like to forget. It was Friday night (March 18) and the Wolverines lost to Western Michigan in the semifinals of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament, 5-2.
Sure, everyone knew Michigan was going to make its 21st consecutive NCAA appearance, but this wasn't the hard-nosed, sense-of-urgency type of style the Wolverines display as they battle in tournament play.
Senior captain Carl Hagelin noted how the team felt embarrassed after the loss. Berenson even mentioned to the media during his availability after the ESPN show how the team had been "playing down" to the level of its competition in the last few weeks.
Instead of forgetting about this game and the last few weeks of the season, Hagelin thinks this loss might have been the wake-up call the Wolverines needed. On Saturday afternoon (March 19) just over 16 hours after the loss to WMU, U-M bounced back with inspired play from goalie Shawn Hunwick (a career -high 42 saves in a regulation game) and two goals in a 15-second time span by Chris Brown and Hagelin to lead Michigan to a 4-2 win over Notre Dame.
This rebound game is what the seniors on this team are keying on. Hagelin even mentioned this loss might have been "good for the team" since they had been on an eight-game winning streak despite not playing up to their potential.
Now, the captain from Sweden and the other seniors have to show the importance of each and every detail. One 30-second shift can mean the difference between advancing or going home in the NCAA Tournament.
"In this tournament, if you don't get that first goal it can be tough to come from behind," said Hagelin. "Air Force got that first goal against us a few years ago and then we scored the first goal against Bemidji."
His plan is to help U-M jump on the momentum from the opening faceoff just as a team would be battling during the last minute of closely contested contest. His belief is the team needs to play with that sense of urgency. Everyone needs to know the importance of each aspect their preparation and play on the ice means to the success of this U-M team.
"The way we played (on Friday night), we don't want to be like that," said Hagelin. "This is Michigan and everyone including ourselves expects more."
Yes, it is time to look ahead. Without looking back, the fortunes of this Michigan team might not be as bright as they are this week.
The game will be shown live in HD on ESPN3.com.