Michigan Wolverine Sports: Let’s Call It A Year


Posted at 10:00pm — 4/2/2015

Michigan Wolverine Sports: Let’s Call It A Year

Congratulations to the Michigan Wolverines on reaching this year’s Final Four.

No, this isn’t some sick belated April Fool’s Day joke. I am referring to the Michigan women’s basketball team. And I’m talking about the Final Four of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, where they lost a heartbreaker Wednesday night, 69-65, to UCLA in the WNIT semifinals at Crisler Arena.

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As it turns out, the Lady Wolverines’ impressive yet quiet run in the women’s version of the Not Invited Tournament may be the highlight of the entire year for Michigan’s athletic program. For the first time in nearly half a century, Michigan’s football, basketball (men’s at least) and hockey teams all failed to earn postseason berths. If that’s not bad enough, consider that with two wins in the next week, Tom Izzo can relegate Wolverine fans everywhere to a world where Ohio State owns football’s national title and Michigan State is the national champion in hoops. Yeah, that bad.

A dispirited defeat to Maryland in the Big House last November sealed the fate of Brady Hoke’s 5-7 Wolverines, and of Hoke himself. December was the unkind month for John Beilein’s basketball team, who suffered a series of crushing home-court defeats to SMU, Eastern Michigan and, most notorious of all, the New Jersey Institute of Technology—who reached a Final Four of their own, the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, losing to Northern Arizona in the CIT semifinals on Tuesday night.

The Michigan hockey team, whose 22 straight Division I Ice Hockey Tournament berths from 1991-2012 set an all-time NCAA record, continued its streak of newfound futility by missing the tournament for the third straight season. As difficult as it had been to watch the football and basketball teams this year, the plight of Red Berenson’s 30th Wolverine squad was easily the most painful and inexplicable of them all.

Michigan Wolverines
Michigan Wolverines /

Michigan Wolverines

With a roster chock full of talent—10 players have already been drafted by NHL teams, not including first-team All-Big Ten freshman Zach Werenski—Michigan had the potential to return coach Berenson to the Big (Ice) Dance, even make a run at his third national championship. The Maize and Blue dominated the conference’s postseason awards, with Freshman of the Year Dylan Larkin and Big Ten scoring champ Zach Hyman joining Werenski on the All-Big Ten first team. Two more Wolverines, captain Andrew Copp and future Florida Panther defenseman Michael Downing, made the second team.

Even with Werenski, Larkin, future Buffalo Sabre JT Compher and soon-to-be-Chicago-Blackhawk Tyler Motte playing for the U.S. National Junior Team in the IHF World Junior Championship, Michigan still won the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament, beating #5 Michigan Tech and Michigan State by 2-1 scores on consecutive nights. By the time they faced the Spartans again at Joe Louis Arena a month later, the #13 Wolverines were 15-8, in first place in the Big Ten and riding a white-hot seven-game win streak.

But Michigan State goalie Jake Hildebrand extinguished the fire, turning the tables on the Spartans’ GLI defeat with a 2-1 victory. The loss sent the maize and blue into a tailspin that saw them drop four of five games and fall clean out of the rankings. Yet Michigan still entered the final weekend of the season—a home-and-home series against their in-state rivals—with the conference title in reach, and fate in their hands. After escaping Munn Arena with an electrifying 5-3 win, they took the ice at a sold-out Yost Arena the next day needing one point for a first-round bye in the Big Ten Hockey Tournament, and a victory for the outright conference crown.

With everything at stake on Senior Night, with a chance to be in the driver’s seat for an NCAA tournament berth, the nation’s #1 scoring offense fired 92 shots yet could only muster a single goal. Hildebrand solidified his place as Big Ten Player of the Year by stopping 37 shots, including a third-period barrage that brought the crowd to its feet for premature celebrations often enough to resemble a wave. Hours earlier the table was set. Now, the opportunity having been blown, Michigan faced the daunting prospect of winning three times on consecutive nights for the berth. They got as far as the championship game, where the regular-season champion Minnesota Gophers broke a 2-2 tie in the third period and went on to capture the title with a 4-2 win.

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  • The Wolverines’ frustrating season was captured perfectly in that ill-fated weekend with the Spartans. Despite losing just twice from November 1 through January 30 and scoring nearly a goal more per game than any other Division I school, the team suffered from inexplicable and exasperating periods of listlessness. A sudden absence of offensive urgency; a lack of aggressiveness in the corners; lazy passes that were picked off in stride. They had the talent to overcome their mistakes throughout the season, but not the determination to eliminate them. Ultimately, they ran into a hole they couldn’t skill their way out of.

    So Michigan hockey fans are denied the chance to see more of the prolific Hyman-Larkin-Selman line, and a season with so much promise regrettably becomes yet another forgotten campaign. Just as basketball fans were denied another deep tournament run from Beilein, whose Wolverines last year were a last-second trey away from back-to-back Final Four appearances. Just as the football team was denied a December’s worth of practices and its fans a bowl game over the holidays, as they had enjoyed for 33 straight years from 1976 through 2007.

    It’s been a rough year to be sure. Yet even with all that’s happened, why is it you can’t seem to wipe the smile off a Michigan fan’s face these days? Might it have something to do with a fella by the name of Harbaugh? See you at the Spring Game.

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    Written by GBMWolverine Writer — Chris Hill

    Go Blue — Wear Maize!