By RICKY LINDSAY, Sports Editor
Like a car salesman, the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s hockey head coach can charm his clients with an unmatched charisma and confidence.
Haltinner said this year’s team would be different. He promised wins, hardware and more importantly, banners, to the several top-flight junior-league recruits that strolled through the grey doors of the Fieldhouse to hear his pitch. He was determined that the struggling and disappointment from season’s past would soon be a distant memory.
After UM-Dearborn swept national powerhouse Oakland University — a foe the Wolverines had defeated only three times since 2009 — this weekend, it’s time to listen.
No. 18 UM-Dearborn edged No. 23 Oakland, 4-1, Friday, before routing its rivals, 10-4, in an outdoor game at Clark Park Sunday. The 10-goal effort by the Wolverines marked a season high.
“I think that we’re slowly but surely grabbing respect around the nation and respect from doubters,” Haltinner said following Sunday’s win. “The thing is, you got to win like this to get the respect from everybody. We got to keep it going. This is a small push for us to get into nationals. We’re happy with how everything went and we’re going to keep pushing forward.”
Senior captain Jase Paciocco has seen it all during his time with the Wolverines: a pair of sub-.500 seasons, lopsided losses to rivals and bitter exits from postseason play.
But this year is different.
UM-Dearborn has been ranked amongst ACHA Division-1 teams throughout the season and recovered following a grueling fall stretch against ranked foes.
“Oh, it is different. The program is just enhancing every single year and getting these guys this year, the attitude’s completely different in the locker room,” Paciocco said. “We knew coming in that they are a rival and we know they’re always going to bring it, no matter what year it is. It’s good to come out with a win like that, especially on this kind of ice here.”
The Wolverines and Oakland were scheduled to battle outdoors at Clark Park in the final regular-season game last year. But the highly anticipated matchup was cancelled hours before the game time due to poor ice conditions.
UM-Dearborn and Oakland managed to play outdoors Sunday following another postponement from Saturday’s regularly-scheduled game. And when the two finally met, it was all UM-Dearborn — Paciocco and company routed the Golden Grizzlies after racing out to a 4-0 first-period lead.
“It meant everything to us. We were just stressing non-stop, we try to keep a fine line between having some fun out here and being serious,” Paciocco said. “We knew what we had to do and I think we came out and did exactly what we needed to. So it feels great, especially against Oakland.”
Freshman goaltender Nate Ferris is one of the players wowed by Haltinner as a recruit last year. He has dazzled in 25 games played this season, posting a .882 save percentage and one shutout.
But Ferris knows work remains in achieving Haltinner’s goal: a bid to nationals.
“At the end of the day, it’s just two wins. We haven’t accomplished what we want yet,” Ferris said. “We want to get to nationals, make some noise at nationals, and see how far we can go. So a couple wins, it’s nice to have, it’s a nice way to start off the year and hopefully we can turn that into more.”
UM-Dearborn dropped 10 of 11 games against ranked opponents from October to early November, but managed to overcome adversity en route to a 16-13 record. The Wolverines have won five consecutive games and took home their first Great Lakes Showcase championship over Thanksgiving weekend.
Haltinner said this year’s UM-Dearborn hockey team would be different.
And after the Wolverines first sweep vs. Oakland since the 2009-2010 season (UM-Dearborn’s athletics online records stretch back only six years), it’s time to listen.
“It’s our time now,” Haltinner said. “We’re really pushing this program and we’ve got great support from the university and our guys are really getting behind what we started out to do. Everyone’s buying into the system and they’re having fun doing it, so we’re really happy with the way everything’s been going and I couldn’t ask for more.”