March 19, 2006 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Michigan Bid a Nice Consolation

CHN Staff Report

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan's win over Northern Michigan in the CCHA Tournament consolation game finally assured the Wolverines a bid to the NCAAs.

But this has been a trying season for the Wolverines — at least from their historic perspective. Most of all, settling on a goaltender has been problematic, though now it seems it will be senior Noah Ruden the rest of the way.

Michigan received a No. 3 seed in the West Regional, and will have to play North Dakota in Grand Forks, then possibly Minnesota. But for a team that has often received the break of playing NCAA games in Ann Arbor, even as a lower seed, the Wolverines were not complaining.

"From day one, I've said we're fortunate to be in the tournament, no matter who we play or where we play," said Michigan coach Red Berenson. "The way that the bracketing came down, this is probably the toughest challenge out of all the brackets, but we can't expect any less. If you took this year's win percentage and last year's RPI, we wouldn't even be in the tournament.

"The reason we're in the tournament is not because of us so much, but because our league is so much stronger than most. Last year, I think we had the third-best winning percentage in the nation, and this year, we're 19th. But our win-loss from last year knocked us down to about where we are this year.

"It's crazy. I think we're fortunate to be in the tournament, and I think the bracket is as difficult a bracket as there is with North Dakota hosting. We know what it was like here at Yost. There's no question that
teams didn't want to come in here and play us this season. We're going to have to go out and play in a spectacular building. North Dakota is as good a team as there is in the country right now. They proved that in the league playoffs. We're up against a top opponent, and it'll be a
challenge for us."

Berenson said that, despite coming in third this past weekend, there are some good things going on with his team.

"I didn't like the first half of our game on Friday, but I thought the second half of our game we were the better team against Michigan State," Berenson said. "For the most part, I thought we played pretty well on Saturday in a game that was hard for a lot of people to put meaning into. When you looked around the building and no one was there, it made it a tough environment. Our team played hard and they played gritty, and they made the most out of the opportunity. You call it a consolation game, but it was more than that."

The goaltending of course has been the concern this season, with Billy Sauer brought in as the heir apparent to Al Montoya. Berenson has always gone with one goaltender for four seasons, and played that guy almost every game. But Montoya left one year early, and Sauer was rushed.

"Noah has to play," Berenson said. "He's our starting goalie right now and he's winning. You keep hearing about
[Jordan] Parise [from North Dakota] and [Boston College's] Corey Schneider and how great of goalkeeping they have right now. Well, maybe we don't have that marquee goalie, but we've got a goalie that has been around. I think he knows what it takes to win a game. We have to give him a
good game and he'll give us a good game.

"This will be a tough game for him going there with the way that North Dakota can score. With their home record and all the goals that they've scored at home, they're a
terrific team. It's going to be a challenge for our whole team defensively just to play better.

"The one good thing about coming to a school like Michigan is that you get to play in big games and in big venues all the time. You play in front our crowd at Yost and then you go to Joe Louis Arena and you play in the Michigan State game we had a couple of months ago. Even going to Miami,
Western Michigan, anywhere, our rinks are intimidating even in our own league.

"North Dakota won't be any tougher to play in than Omaha. We're really going to have to put our best foot forward, but our young guys and everyone else on the team are going to have to play like they've never played before on the road to have a chance."

Senior captain Andrew Ebbett remembers going into Manchester, N.H., in 2004 and beating the Wildcats on their ice. So this is not an impossible task.

"We had a good start in the game and that was huge for us.
We had two goals in the first couple of minutes, and that didn't really give the crowd a chance to get in the game. It's always huge on the road to keep the fans out of it. It'll be a good test for us. We were playing in New Hampshire's home rink when we beat them and we're playing in North Dakota's rink this weekend.

"I think now is a time when it's up to everyone individually to find out how much they want to invest in this team. If you're not up for a game like this come Friday night, then you shouldn't be playing college hockey."

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