By RICKY LINDSAY, Editor-in-Chief
Nic LaBurn lifted his arms high and kicked his right leg out, attempting to soak up the moment. Confetti poured from the stands as his teammates mobbed him at the corner of rink.
The University of Michigan-Dearborn outlasted No. 5 Adrian College in a physical 4-3 win in overtime Friday. The Wolverines needed a come-from-behind effort, tying the game with under a minute left in regulation before LaBurn tapped in the game-winning goal over a minute into the extra period.
But it was more than just the win for the Wolverines, who completed the two-game sweep Saturday with a 2-1 victory.
It shows what they can become.
“This proves that we’re the real deal, so to speak,” LaBurn said. “We can beat anybody.”
Entering Friday’s series opener, UM-Dearborn posted a 5-18 record against Adrian since Dec. 3, 2009. Now, they’ve won three-straight games since 2014’s Halloween thriller, a game that was eerily similar to Friday’s overtime win.
Jimmy Marchese’s hat trick powered last season’s overtime win. This time, the wealth was shared; four players scored the four goals in Friday’s win.
“This was more of a complete team effort. I think that shows what we are this year compared to years past,” Gino Darin said. “We’re more of a team… all four lines can score now.”
UM-Dearborn hockey has been quickly evolving under third-year head coach Chris Haltinner, who craves winning. He’s stocked the roster with talented players. He found himself a gem in freshman Tyler Groat, and he’s not the lone youngster that could become a cornerstone player.
Most of all, he’s finding guys that want to win. UM-Dearborn is no longer a destination for players to play hockey — it’s a destination for winning.
“Chris just bringing in players who want to win and don’t just want to be here to play hockey, ‘cause wanting to win is 90 percent of it,” Darin said. “You’ve got to want it.”
Haltinner knows just how hard it is to get to the next level. The Wolverines believed they had a team capable of competing for a championship last year, but they fell short of reaching the national tournament.
Sweeping Adrian certainly helps their case, but there’s work left to be done.
“It shows what we can become, but it’s a process,” Haltinner said Friday. We’re slowly getting there and we hope to be at that echelon one day, where we’re always a top-5 team. But that’s something you have to work for; it’s not overnight and it’s something earned.”
Where would the Wolverines be on the hypothetical ladder of process?
“I think we’re there,” Haltinner said. “You just keep adding little pieces to the puzzle. Guys buy into the system and we’ve got a great group here. To be honest with you, I wouldn’t trade our group for nothing… We’re getting there. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.”
“We’re pretty high right now,” LaBurn countered. “That was a big win. I’d say the first big win we’ve had all year.”
Eight games remain in UM-Dearborn’s regular season. It’ll play Adrian one more time. But at 15-2-3 and fresh off its first sweep of Adrian in program history, one thing is clear: this isn’t the Wolverines team of old; this is a team that is ready to — and knows it can — compete for a national championship.
“My first year here, it was kind of like a game where we knew we were going to win close or it was going to be a rough ride home,” Darin said. “This year it was completely different the whole week. We knew the moment we stepped on the ice that we could compete with them. We’re just as good. The attitude’s finally changed.”