Michigan Joins A Growing List
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. Add Michigan to the list of teams getting knocked off by the so-called "lesser" leagues.
Actually, Michigan was the first to get a scare — when it had to come from behind in the third period to defeat then-MAAC school Mercyhurst in 2001. In 1999, Niagara defeated New Hampshire. In 2004, Bemidji State nearly knocked off Denver. In 2006, Holy Cross finally did it, defeating Minnesota. Since then, Air Force had two near-misses, before finally finishing the job.
"We watched some video on them, we knew they were a good team," Mitera said. "We thought they had one of the best goalies in the nation, and I think it showed today."
Indeed, Andrew Volkening made 43 saves, but he also had help from a defense that didn't allow many second chances.
"They're a great defensive team, no question about that, and they just implemented their style," Summers said. "You realize how precious goals are, especially in a tournament like this.
"We give them a lot of respect, and we gave them respect going into it. It's just the way the puck goes sometimes. I give their goalie a lot of credit. ... I feel we put our best step forward. Guys were playing hard out there."
But, despite bad "puck luck," and despite Air Force being a rather decent team, this wasn't supposed to happen to Michigan.
There were certainly a variety of factors in the loss, but for the second straight NCAA game, the Wolverines' goaltending had issues at just the wrong time.
"I didn't like the first goal, I didn't like the second goal," Berenson said. "There are other parts to that play, too. But as your goalie, you're the last line of resort. We made a bad change on the first one and second one, but the goalie has to make those saves. Our team played a good game, but we needed to get the first goal. The game played right into their hands. But we missed an open net, we hit a crossbar."
Michigan couldn't score during a 5-on-3 early, and that was pivotal, Berenson thought.
"That can be a big part of a game. Sometimes you don't even want a 5-on-3 early in the game," Berenson said. "That was a good shift for them, and our power play wasn't a factor tonight."
The loss overshadows what been a year of adversity to get to this point, losing key defensemen Mark Mitera and Steve Kampfer for long parts of the year, losing Max Pacioretty before the season began.
"We were really prepared. This was not an upset, this was not a surprise," Berenson said. "Our team was wired, focused ... from time to time, they realzed, this team is really good. When we did got our moments, you've got to put the puck in the net and change the momentum of the game. The team had a terrific year and fought through a lot of adversity. We went through a lot to get here.
"It's disappointing for our team. Expectations are high every year."
And that's true, as it is for a lot of programs. And not all of them can win every year. This is not really a stain on Michigan's program as much as it is just another reminder that winning championships is very hard. Had this happened to a program like New Hampshire or Colorado College or St. Cloud State, fans would be calling for their coach's heads again, and that would be unfair for the same reason.
"Everyone says how we've been to the tournament 20 straight years, but we only won the final twice," Berenson said.