For Michigan, A Special Trip and Opportunity
by Casandra Pagni/CHN Reporter
When Nebraska-Omaha came to Ann Arbor in late October — after years as a CCHA rival, but now as a WCHA member — it happily handed Michigan its first loss of the season.
Nebraska-Omaha jumped out to an early 4-0 lead at Yost, and despite a two-goal comeback effort, Michigan couldn’t manage to take down the Mavericks in Game 1. The Wolverines rebounded the next night to salvage a series split, however, the then-No. 3 team in the country wasn’t pleased with an early season 3-1-2 record.
But, as far as Michigan is concerned now, it won’t be facing anywhere near the same team when the Wolverines and Nebraska-Omaha square off in the NCAA regional in St. Louis on Friday. And to get a crack at defending-champion Boston College, it has to solve the Mavericks first.
“Obviously you want to prepare yourself for the team coming up, and Nebraska-Omaha is a really good team,” senior forward Louie Caporusso said. “We can’t look past that Friday game. That’s a very tough game. Everyone’s got to be going. We’re only as strong as our weakest link. Mentally, we’re going to be focused, I mean, there’s only so much you can do physically.”
Both teams had disappointing conference tournament results, as Michigan finished third in the CCHA Tournament while Nebraska-Omaha was knocked out of the WCHA Tournament in the first round by Bemidji State.
For the Wolverines, the 5-2 loss to Western Michigan that ended a chance at a CCHA Tournament title, is just added fuel to the fire for a strong start on Friday.
“I think we really have to be a focused team. We can’t have a mediocre game on Friday and expect to bounce back on Saturday,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “Everyone’s going to be playing with a little more desperation, a little more focus.”
When the two squads meet in St. Louis, it will be noteworthy to both programs.
For Michigan, this season marks the 21st consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance; and for UNO, it's just its second ever at-large berth. Nebraska-Omaha is looking for its own redemption, too, since it dropped its 2006 NCAA Tournament appearance to Boston University, 9-2, in the first round.
This regional is also noteworthy for the combined eight national championships won by the participating coaches — including four by BC's Jerry York, two by UNO's Dean Blais when he was at North Dakota, and two by Berenson.
Berenson, who has been at the helm of the Wolverines for all 21 straight tournament appearances, has a professional history in Missouri as well, which just makes it another notch more special. Berenson was a center for the St. Louis Blues, and was a coach there as well, winning the NHL's Coach of the Year Award in 1980.
“I’ve got a lot of memories in St. Louis,” Berenson said. “But the rink is different, it’s a different everything. I still have a lot of friends in St. Louis, but this is a business trip. This isn’t a going back and visiting all your friends. I’m not like that. When I go to St. Louis, I don’t even want to talk to my friends. We’re coming to play a hockey game. … I really like St. Louis. I hope our team likes St. Louis.”
The Wolverines will definitely be without second-leading scorer junior David Wohlberg, who broke his collarbone two weekends ago against Bowling Green and is out for the season. And it will likely be without junior defenseman Brandon Burlon, who has been ill for the past week.
But, despite the injury and illness bug, the Michigan seniors and coaches know that it’s do or die — a mentality that they’ve tried to convey to the team all week in practice.
“Even as the week goes on, it’s got to be in that locker room, something that we’re doing on the ice,” Berenson said. “We can’t turn a different switch on on Friday. We’re having a good week, we’re ready for this. We’re having a good season. It’s got to be a balance between confidence and desperation and focus.”
With Michigan and Nebraska-Omaha as the No. 2 and No. 3 seed in the West region, respectively, the winner of the regional will face the winner of Boston College and Colorado College on Saturday in the regional final.
But the only thing on this Michigan’s squad’s mind is getting past their .500 record with the Mavericks this Friday.