April 7, 2022
Michigan had it all until it did not
by Jashvina Shah/ Staff Writer ()
BOSTON – Many thought Michigan would win the Frozen Four. The Wolverines were talented. They had a coach who had been in many Frozen Fours and who had won national championships. They had a misdemeanor. And they had a solid goalkeeper.
Expectations were high. And despite all this, the Wolverines kept winning. Even when outsiders were not sure they would. Michigan did not win the Big Ten regular season title, but they beat Minnesota to the Big Ten Championship. They both won their regional matches.
They came to the Frozen Four.
And they were ready.
“These guys did a great job,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “Especially all the expectations and the pressure they had to get here at all.”
The expectation was nothing less than yet another national championship, number 10. The players had already scouted out of a spot in the rafters at Yost for that banner. With seven first-round draft picks, including 2020’s first overall pick Owen Power, the team was expected to win it all.
After all, how could a team so talentedly lose?
Michigan won 31 matches. It was mostly for over a decade, not since the 2007-08 season, when the Wolverines also appeared in the Frozen Four. This is only the fourth time in this century that Michigan has crossed the 30-win mark.
The Wolverines were young, of course. But they also had junior Johnny Beecher, a first-round draft pick of the Bruins. And they had eight seniors. That included Nick Blankenburg, who turned down an NHL contract to return. That included Jimmy Lambert, who scored a goal in the Frozen Four. And that included super senior Michael Pastujov, who was on Michigan’s last Frozen Four team.
But most of all, they had Erik Portillo – a sophomore who kept the Wolverines inside the game and let them return from two one-goal deficits.
Michigan still thought it was OK when it came down 1-0 and then 2-1. Wolverines had been in this situation before.
“I think we were able to claw back,” Beecher said. “It was impressive. When you have a young team like us, nine times out of 10 you will not have that ability to get back in the game, but we gave ourselves a shot.”
They took Denver in overtime.
“We were in the game,” Pearson said. “It’s a shot that could go both ways. And it’s the elimination of a single match, especially in hockey, that makes it so hard to win.”
Before the puck fell on Michigan’s semifinals, Pearson said they were ready. They had a goal on their backs as the No. 1 team, but they were loose and they were focused.
“It’s one fight,” Pearson said. “And they are good. All the teams here are really good. Minnesota State is good. Minnesota is good. Denver is good. The teams we played last weekend are really good. It’s hard to move on. I thought we were ready to play. “We’re a pretty loose group. They were comfortable today. As a coach, you can only give them the opportunity and lead them and give them a few things to work on. I thought they did.”
But on the biggest stage in college hockey, they couldn’t win it all. Denver scored late in the first overtime and won 3-2. Guys like Power and Matty Beniers rejected the NHL for one more season so they could win a national championship. But in the end, it was not enough.
“Denver played hard. They played well,” Pearson said. “And there’s a reason Denver has won – I do not know – is it 32 games now? They’re a good hockey team and you have to play your best. Even when you play your best, you want some nights not win. ”
On Wednesday, Pearson said the Wolverines played their best hockey (despite allowing four third-period goals to Quinnipiac in their final outing).
“I do not think it was our best match tonight,” Pearson said. “We had a lot of guys who played hard, but there were some guys who had a hard time playing in this game for some reason. But hats off to Denver. Don’t take anything from them.”
But when it was all over, Pearson, whose contract expires on April 30, told his players he was proud of them.
“I told them right at the end that this one match is not going to define who they are as hockey players or people,” Pearson said. “There are a lot of expectations for this group, and they exceeded those expectations and coped with all that pressure so well. So I just want to thank them publicly.”