Nov. 14, 2013
By Chad Shepard
This weekend (Nov. 15-16) the University of Michigan ice hockey team will head to Nebraska-Omaha for its second-longest trip of the season and its first trip to UNO since the 2009-10 season. The matchup with the Mavericks has a few senior players reflecting on the last time these two teams played, in 2010-11, when the current seniors were freshmen.
That season, Nebraska-Omaha played at Yost Ice Arena on Oct. 22-23, 2010, with the Wolverines and Mavericks splitting the series. That series was the only non-conference regular-season meeting between the two schools -- until this weekend.
When the 2011 NCAA Tournament rolled around in March, Michigan and UNO met again in the opening round in St. Louis, Mo., and the Wolverines willed their way to a thrilling 3-2 overtime finish, the first NCAA Tournament experience for the current seniors.
Senior forward Luke Moffatt remembers the importance of that win.
"(I'm) just thinking about how close (that game was) and what a good team we played," Moffatt said, "If we didn't end up closing that game out in overtime we wouldn't have been in the national championship. That was a pretty special one."
Four players on U-M's current roster were a part that 2010-11 national runner-up squad: defensemen Mac Bennett and Kevin Clare and forwards Moffatt and Derek DeBlois.
Clare remembers the NCAA Tournament game well, down to the final goal. "I believe it was Kevin Lynch, back-door," Clare said, referring to the game-winner. "The bench went crazy for that."
Following the goal, there was an long delay -- about 15 minutes -- as officials looked carefully to make sure they got the call right. When they finally made their ruling that Michigan's goal would stand, the Wolverines mobbed goaltender Shawn Hunwick.
"It was just excitement everywhere. There was a rush to get to the goalie and it was a great feeling," said Clare.
The Maize and Blue went on to beat No. 13 Colorado College, 2-1, and No. 1 North Dakota, 2-0, before falling to No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth, 3-2, in overtime in the national championship game in St. Paul, Minn., capping a magical postseason run.
The March 2011 matchup in the opening round of the tournament pitted the sixth-ranked U-M squad against the No. 14 Mavericks. When the two schools met in October 2010 of that same season, Michigan was No. 3 in the country and the Mavericks came to town boasting a No. 10 ranking. The schools scored a combined 14 goals in two games during an exciting weekend of CCHA play.
Clare earned his first collegiate point during that series, assisting on a goal scored by Luke Glendening in the first game, a 6-1 win for Michigan.
"It was exciting to play in my first game here, and to get a point on top of that was nice," Clare said. "I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know too much about them (UNO), but all the guys in the room, I had a ton of respect for them."
Now in positions of senior leadership, Moffatt and Clare have insights that the freshmen do not have when it comes to road trips and big matchups, but both insist this group of youngsters is just fine.
"A lot of our freshmen are leaders already. Going on that road trip to UNH, they didn't really play like freshmen. A lot of them upped their game," Clare said. "We don't treat them as freshmen; we treat them as older guys on the team, and right now a lot of those guys are carrying the older guys."
Almost 700 miles separate the two campuses, but distance is no factor for the Wolverines.
"A road trip is a road trip. We treat them all the same," Moffatt said. "Our motto is 'win the next game' during the week, and when it's game day it's 'win this game.' UNO on Friday is our focus right now."
Clare agreed with that assessment.
"We really look forward to road trips like this, no matter how far they are," Clare said, "We embrace them and really enjoy them. When we play here, guys are off going to class or doing different things, but when we go on the road we're all on a schedule and in the same place at the same time. It's nice to have that camaraderie."
When the two schools meet this weekend, it will be a second-ranked Michigan unit against an unranked UNO team. The Friday night matchup will start at 8:07 CST and be televised by CBS College Sports, and Saturday night's contest will begin an hour earlier, at 7:07 CST.