Spirit of St. Louis: Seniors Key Wolverines Victory
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
ST. LOUIS Two years ago, in an NCAA regional semifinal game against Air Force in Bridgeport, Conn., the Michigan Wolverines found themselves in a similar situation to the one in which they found themselves tonight against Nebraska-Omaha in St. Louis: trailing 2-0 and facing the potential end of their season.
A notable difference? Michigan is now led by a group of eight seniors — among them, the likes of Carl Hagelin (48 points this season), Louie Caporusso (30) and Matt Rust (25).
And they haven't forgotten their experience against Air Force two seasons ago. That game ended in a 2-0 loss, a stark contrast to tonight's 3-2 comeback victory in overtime.
"I look at my sophomore year, when we went down 2-0, bad thoughts start creeping into your head," said Caporusso. "You start questioning yourself and your teammates. Come my senior year now, it's a different story. I'm not questioning anything. I'm not letting bad thoughts creep into my head. We know we're going to push this season as long as possible."
Down 2-0 after less than nine minutes against the Mavericks, Caporusso ignited the Wolverines comeback by scoring a power play goal less than two minutes into the second period. He then added an assist on Kevin Lynch's game-tying goal seven minutes later.
With time, certainly, has come maturity. Heading into Friday's extra time session, Caporusso and his classmates helped provide the voice of leadership in the Wolverines' locker room.
But it wasn't until early in overtime when Michigan's senior maturity was really tested. On the Wolverines' bench — as players waited for over 10 minutes while referees reviewed the video of what was ultimately determined to be Michigan's game-winning goal by sophomore Kevin Lynch — Caporusso knew that his confidence should be balanced with caution. Last season, Michigan had a goal waved off under similar circumstances, and wound up losing to Miami in the NCAA Regional Final.
"What if it's not a goal?" he asked rhetorically. "Are you ready to still play? You've got to be ready for that. Even if you know it's a goal, you never know what the refs saw. You've got to get ready to play."
In the end, the officials called the controversial play in favor of the Wolverines, determining that a Kevin Lynch shot had snuck underneath the leg pads of Maverick goaltender John Faulkner. The available video replay angles were not ideal, and that contributed to the lengthy on-ice review.
Whether luck played a role in the outcome may be up to debate, but Caporusso, for one, was candid in his postgame comments.
"I'm a big believer in our team," said the Woodbridge, Ont., native. "I'm a big believer in external factors helping us win. Good teams are lucky. Championship teams are lucky. Let's hope the luck stays on our side.
"But it's not just about that. This team is really resilient."
Wolverines head coach Red Berenson — returning this weekend to a city, St. Louis, where he played and coached for the NHL's St. Louis Blues in the 1970s and early 1980s — has guided Michigan to 21 consecutive NCAA tournaments. In Friday's NCAA win against former conference rival Nebraska-Omaha, Berenson notched just his third win in nine tries against fellow multi-national title winner Dean Blais.
It was the Wolverines' eighth come from behind victory this season, as Berenson's crew improved to 22-1-1 when permitting two or fewer goals.
"We knew this would be a close game," said Berenson, now in his 27th season at the helm in Ann Arbor. "When you look at the numbers, there wasn't much to choose from. It was fitting that it came down to overtime, and the team that got a break ended up winning the game.
"We've been in enough overtimes that we know it can be over in the first minute."
In the end, it was the Michigan's first overtime win in the NCAA tournament since 2000.
And, thanks in large part to the Wolverines' senior class — and their persistent belief in overcoming yet another obstacle — Caporusso and company live to play another day.
Anjeli Prabhu contributed to this article.