Defining Moments: Michigan
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
Here is a look at the four most defining moments for Michigan on its road to the Frozen Four:
The Great Lakes Invitational
The Wolverines were 16-2-0 headed into their final games of 2007, against Providence and Michigan Tech at the famed Great Lakes Invitational.
It's not often that a team with an .889 winning percentage still has something to prove, but questions regarding goaltender Billy Sauer's abilities still swirled — questions that have surrounded Sauer for his entire career in Ann Arbor. For Sauer, this season's GLI at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena proved to be a career highlight, as the junior netminder stopped all 87 shots he faced during the weekend, leading the Wolverines to back-to-back shutout wins and the GLI championship.
In the championship game, Sauer made 37 saves in a 1-0 double overtime win.
Before the season began, Michigan added former Wolverines goaltender Josh Blackburn to the coaching staff to help mentor Sauer, who before this season had a save percentage under .900 and a goal-against average over 3.00. This year, he has allowed less than two goals per game while saving almost 93 percent of the shots he's faced.
"We're very fortunate that Josh is in the area and was able to come out and help us," said associate head coach Mel Pearson. "We haven't really had an individual being here in the past to help with our goaltenders.
"Josh Blackburn, other than Porter, Kolarik, and Sauer, might be the MVP of our team this year. Just being able to talk to someone has been huge for Billy Sauer, and I think Billy would echo our comments on that."
Kevin Quick's Dismissal
Even the No. 1 team in the country wasn't immune to the off-ice drama that defined much of the 2007-08 college hockey season.
As January turned to February, Wolverines freshman defenseman Kevin Quick — who scored two goals and two assists in 21 games this season — was dismissed from the team. At first, the reasons for his dismissal were vague, with coach Red Berenson saying, "This decision was made because Kevin violated our team rules and the trust of the team."
Later, details emerged indicating that Quick, a 2006 third round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, had stolen a teammate's credit card and used it to run up numerous charges. Quick's dismissal left Michigan with only six active defensemen, plus walk-on Eric Elmblad, who at the time had never appeared in an NCAA game.
It was a situation and distraction that could have caused problems for an already young and inexperienced Michigan team with six times as many rookies as seniors.
In the four games following Quick's dismissal, the depleted Michigan defense allowed 13 goals — the most they had allowed in a four-game stretch at that point of the season. But to the Wolverines' credit, they didn't lose any of those four games, going 1-0-3 in that stretch.
Led by junior assistant captain Mark Mitera, the young Michigan defense corps adapted to the extra responsibility without Quick, and the aforementioned Elmblad held his own in three games during the remainder of the season as well.
"[Mitera] has been our leader on defense," said Pearson. "He took those four young freshmen under his wing and did a real nice job with them."
No. 1 vs. No. 2
Headed into their Feb. 8-9 weekend series with Miami, the Wolverines and RedHawks were not only the top two teams in the CCHA standings; they were the top two ranked teams in the country.
Finally, almost 30 games into the season, they faced off for the first time. The starting lineups included two of the three finalists for this season's Hobey Baker Award — Michigan's Kevin Porter and Miami's Ryan Jones. Indeed, it was the most hyped regular season showdown of the year.
In the end, Michigan routed Miami in the first game, scoring four goals in the first period en route to a 4-2 win. Porter tallied the eventual game winner. The next night, the Wolverines and RedHawks skated to a 5-5 tie as Michigan cemented itself as the top team in the land.
Michigan later defeated Miami, 2-1, in the CCHA championship game.
CCHA Semifinal vs. Northern Michigan
With a record of 33-5-4 headed into the Frozen Four this week in Denver, there weren't many teams that gave Michigan too much trouble this season.
One of them, though, was Northern Michigan. The Wildcats tied Michigan twice during the regular season, and the two squads faced off at Joe Louis Arena on March 21 in a CCHA semifinal matchup.
Heading into the third period, Northern Michigan led 3-2 and looked to derail the No. 1-seeded Wolverines. Facing an elimination scenario for the first time this season, the young Michigan team responded, outscoring Northern Michigan 4-1 in the third period. Junior forward Tim Miller scored just his third and fourth goals of the season, the second of which was the game winner, while Billy Sauer made 13 saves in the period.
The semifinal game against Northern Michigan — particularly the third period comeback — has been the most defining moment of the Wolverines' postseason run thus far. Since that time, Michigan has built up a great deal of momentum headed into the Frozen Four, outscoring its opponents 9-2 in its three games.