Lehman: Opportunity is There for Wolverines at Nationals

(Ricky Lindsay/MJ)
(Ricky Lindsay/MJ)

By ERICK LEHMAN, Managing Editor

Early in the season, it looked likely the University of Michigan-Dearborn hockey team would be making the trip to Bensenville, Ill. for the national tournament.

The Wolverines were swept on a road trip weekend series against Niagara and Buffalo, but played strong in each game.

erickkA few weeks later after getting back on track and sweeping Oakland, the Wolverines were swept again — this time by the goliath of the GLCHL, Davenport University.

Things looked bleak for a minute for the Wolverines, but it was quickly turned around with impressive victories and the emergence of a few players on the roster.

As the season continued, and the Wolverines began to take down perennial powerhouses like Adrian, it seemed more and more likely the Wolverines would be cracking the 10, and even the top five.

A slip up in their own Great Lakes Showcase against Indiana Tech proved to not rattle the Wolverines, as they went on to win seven straight games after that, until that streak was ended by Indiana Tech, proving to be a true thorn in the team’s side.

They followed that up with a devastating loss at Kent State in the first game of the weekend series the next weekend, before splitting the series.

The Wolverines would suffer one more loss — this time to Adrian in the final game of the regular season.

The ACHA Division-1’s national tournament rankings came out, and the Wolverines finished 13th — lower than they wanted, but they had a favorable round one matchup against a team they defeated in the opening weekend of the season.

However, the games were not over quite yet.

The Wolverines clinched the third seed in the GLCHL tournament and drew Indiana Tech, the thorn, in the first round.

UM-Dearborn went on to defeat the Warriors 8-5, to gain momentum heading into the weekend, which consisted of the final four teams — all ACHA tournament qualifiers.

The Wolverines went on to face the daunting Adrian team. This season, they had been the thorn in Adrian’s side, beating it twice in three meetings.

In what was potentially one of the strongest games the Wolverines played, and without a doubt the toughest to that point in the season, they went on to defeat the Bulldogs 2-1.

In that game, goaltender Nate Ferris was lights out, stopping nearly everything in sight and shutting down the best forward in the entire nation. He stopped 48 of 49 shots that came his way, and solidified himself as the anchor of this Wolverine team.

The next night, Ferris dazzled again, and the Wolverines continued their strong game in defeating Davenport, the top seed in the tournament, and the fifth-ranked team in the nation.

So how does the up and down season and strong GLCHL playoffs run tie into nationals?

It shows the Wolverines can hang.

UM-Dearborn has grown; it has adapted its play without one of the best forwards in the league and have been able to win games.

While the Wolverines may not be the team that can constantly come out and score five goals or more and win that way, they are the team that will only allow two goals and win that way.

This sets them up for the potential to shock teams this weekend.

If the Wolverines win tonight against Navy, they will take on the defending national champion’s tomorrow night.

If the Wolverines play like they did two weekends ago, they will — without a doubt — overwhelm Navy and hang with Central Oklahoma.

If they are able to beat both of those teams?

Well, they will more than likely be facing Davenport, the team that was goliath in the GLCHL until a few weekends ago, when the Wolverines found their weakness and exploited it with a wraparound goal from Ryan Kelly in overtime.

That is exactly what the Wolverines will need to do in order to win. It’s what they’ve done all season, and they’ve done it well.

The Wolverines boast talent on the ice and behind the bench. The coaching staff has found weaknesses in opponents, and the team has a bevy of players with a high hockey IQ that are capable of taking the gameplan given to them and turning it into a solid plan on the ice.

The Wolverines may have finished the season ranked lower than expected, and lower than they wanted, but the road to Tuesday’s final is not exactly the most difficult, despite having to go through the defending national champions.

The opportunity is there for the Wolverines, and while some may see it as a shock to see the 13th seed playing on Sunday, it would not surprise teams that have played them this year.