April 8, 2011 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Championship Game Preview

Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan Have Separate Histories

by Matthew Conyers/CHN Staff Writer

Michigan coach Red Berenson’s memories of Minnesota-Duluth are few and far between.

And deservedly so.

With just one meeting between the two schools in the last 30 years, Michigan and UMD aren’t exactly the most familiar of foes.

But the Michigan coach, in his 27th season, does have one memory of Minnesota-Duluth that stands out. It arrived in his first year on the job.

“It was my first year at Michigan and it came in 1984,” Berenson said Friday before the Wolverines took the ice for their last practice of the season. “It was called the Final Four then and it was at Joe Louis Arena. I went in to see the four teams and there was Duluth in the championship game.”

Come Saturday, Berenson is set to make some new memories when it comes to Minnesota-Duluth.

The Wolverines play UMD on Saturday at 7 p.m. (ET) at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul in the first final between the two foes. Michigan is going for its college-hockey-leading 10th title, while Minnesota-Duluth is going for its first championship in school history.

“This means a lot to our program,” Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said. “I remember ’84. I was there (playing for North Dakota). We got beat by Duluth in the semfinals. But for our community, for our program, for our players, they’ve been a good team. They might not be as everyone says, the best team. We’ve got some great players, but we’ve got a really great team and I think that’s pretty special.

“It is hard to believe it was 27 years ago (that UMD was in the final), that’s the hard thing, but we’re here and we got an opportunity and we’re all very fortunante to have that opportunity,” Sandelin said.

Berenson is trying to join the pantheon of coaches that have three or more national titles (Jerry York, Jack Parker, Herb Brooks, Ned Harkness, Gino Gasparini, Bob Johnson, John MacInnes, Murray Armstrong and Vic Heyliger), while Sandelin is attempting to win his first title.

“I can’t say it is nothing new, but it’s inspiring for me to see our team put out,” Berenson said. “I still feel like I’m in sync with the players and college hockey. ... I am not surprised that we are here, I have seen it go all ways. ... I have lived with disappointments, and then we have also had a few lucky wins, like we did [Thursday], so I have seen it all. So what’s it like, it’s great, there is hope for senior citizens.”

Still, both bench leaders know their stories will only be a small part of the picture come Saturday and they’d both like to keep it like that.

Minnesota-Duluth and Michigan enter the championship with an all-too-familiar storyline for this time of the year — each is built on the team dynamic and not a small set of superstars.

Both groups also arrive at the championship after hiding under the radar for most of the last two months. But there will be no way of dodging the limelight on Saturday.

It will be an entirely new feeling for all the players — none of have taken part in a collegiate championship — and that’s something they’re all more than ready to deal with.

“I think just getting out there and having the opportunity to play for a national championship — it’s just something you get one crack at so it’s something special,” Michigan defenseman Jon Merrill said.

For the Minnesota-Duluth players, no matter how surprising a run it was, this was something they had always anticipated.

“We’ve worked hard all year and this was our ultimate goal,” Minnesota-Duluth forward Jack Connolly said. said.

The same goes for Michigan.

There was no shock Thursday. They were supposed to be here as far as they saw it.

What they will be surprised with is each other. Both teams know little about each other after focusing most of their attention on their respective semifinal opponents.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t have their own set theories on what needs to happen on Saturday. And most center on playing their game and focusing on what they can control – their own energy, urgency and desire.

That’s something that never changes no matter what Frozen Four it is.

“I think Saturday night is going to be fun," Minnesota Duluth forward Mike Connolly said. "Hopefully all the seats are full and we're going to give the fans a good game.”

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