What struck me about Michigan’s press conference after Thursday’s semifinal game, was how much Red Berenson talked about the 1997 Michigan team that was favored entering the Frozen Four but got knocked out in the semifinals.
Here we are, almost 15 years later, and Berenson is still talking about the game like it was yesterday. He has carried it with him for that long.
Unfortunately for UND, this is a loss that the players, coaches and fans might carry with them for a long time as well.
I have now seen seven years of Sioux hockey end as a reporter and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a group so devastated after a game. Maybe after the 2005 championship. Maybe. Much of the team had showered and changed and captain Chay Genoway was still sitting in his locker stall with his gear on. He couldn’t take off the jersey for the final time. One media member came up to me and said: “I had an easier time at my mother’s funeral than going into that locker room.”
Derrick LaPoint went to the press conference and wore his heart on his sleeve. One reporter tried to get him to say that the season was overall a success. LaPoint bluntly disagreed and said it was a failure. That’s a reflection of how the team feels right now.
I think the reason why this one will sting the players, coaches and fans for a while is because they all know getting to the Frozen Four isn’t easy. UND was the only No. 1 seed to do it this year. Three other great teams didn’t make it this far. There are no guarantees on when they will be back, no matter how great of a regular season they might have.
Secondly, UND was the best team in St. Paul. And they played well enough to win nine times out of 10. And in the championship, they would have played a team they beat by five goals the last time they played. That part will sting as well.
Now the natural reaction of fans and media is to look for the scapegoat. Try to find someone to pin the loss on. But in this instance, there is no one. The Sioux played hard, carried the play, got good goaltending and still lost. It happens from time to time in this sport and unfortunately for the Sioux, it happened at the wrong time. The Sioux outshot the CCHA champs 40-20 and lost. What can you do?
The next question that will be asked is: “What will it take to win a national tournament?” In my opinion, you need a very good team to do it, but you also need things to line up. I also believe it’s impossible to predict when it might happen.
In 1997, Michigan was the best team in the country, but lost in the semifinals. Inexplicably, they came back the next year with an inferior team and won the national title.
In 1999, UND was the best team in the country, but lost in the regional final. Strangely enough, they came back the next year with an inferior team and won the national title.
In 2011, it is my belief that UND was the best team in the country. The Sioux lost in the semifinals. They will not be as good next year, but could that team win it? Certainly possible.
Tomorrow night, a team that finished fourth in the WCHA, won 2 of 8 games before the playoffs and lost to Bemidji State in the quarterfinals of the Final Five will play for a national championship. A fan base that three weeks ago was furious about “another late season collapse” may be celebrating a title. You just never know. That’s the beauty and the agony of this tournament.
So, those are my thoughts on UND’s bitter end to a storybook season. We had plenty of game coverage in the Herald as well. Stories:
A couple of other notes:
- Sioux fans at the game were outstanding. Sometimes, when the team doesn’t score, the crowd gets taken out of the game. The only time the atmosphere left the building was after Brock Nelson got hurt. Otherwise, they were roaring for the Sioux after they put on the pressure and they were in the game until the end.
- Speaking of Nelson, I don’t have any updates on his condition yet. He was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons. Tough loss for the Sioux because Nelson was playing very well for them.
- UND mixed and matched the third and fourth lines after that. I know I saw Jason Gregoire take at least one shift on the fourth line.
- The Pony Express line had the same number of shots as Michigan: 20. That’s pretty incredible. Evan Trupp had 10 shots himself. His best play was an unbelievable touch pass to Brad Malone to send Malone in on the goal. Malone made the right move and had the five-hole to score, but Shawn Hunwick made a great poke check.
- Andrew MacWilliam had a very good game for the Sioux.
- LaPoint finished his college career going 32 consecutive games without being a minus.
- I’m sure there are other notes I’m missing, but that’s all for now. Time to get to the Hobey ceremony.