College Hockey:
Michigan seniors’ decision to return pays off with Frozen Four spot

The balanced group has experience and motivation going into the national semifinals.

When you look at the brackets for the Frozen Four, there’s a lot of interesting symmetry.

Sr. Carl Hagelin (C) for UofM (Michael Simari)

Carl Hagelin and the Michigan seniors have had increased expectations from coach Red Berenson (photo: Michael Simari).

Two CCHA teams, two WCHA teams. Both representatives from their leagues spent much of the season fighting for first place, with the teams on one side eventually claiming first.

You also have one semifinal featuring two teams that have captured the most NCAA titles, and the other semifinal with two teams that have never won an NCAA title.

Of course, when you look further at one of those teams, the Michigan Wolverines, you see another interesting balance. The Wolverines are led by a deep senior class that made the Frozen Four as freshmen before falling short in the regionals as sophomores and juniors.

“It’s an honor to be at another Frozen Four, especially as a senior class,” senior assistant captain Louie Caporusso said. “It was an honor as freshmen, and it was unfortunate that we were unable to make it the next two years, and I think we learned a lot from that. I know the whole senior class is pretty thrilled. This is definitely new to most guys on the team. Only one class has been to the Frozen Four before.”

That class that last made it to the Frozen Four had two other members who departed Michigan early for the pros, Max Pacioretty and Aaron Palushaj. Of the Wolverines’ current seniors, four are NHL draft picks, including leading scorers Caporusso and Carl Hagelin.

After losing a heartbreaking double-overtime game to Miami in the regional final last year, none of the players considered leaving for the pros.

“Well, I think if you know our seniors, they aren’t the kind of kids who had one foot out the door, and I think that’s what a lot of kids, they get ahead of themselves a little bit,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson.

“We lost two players from that class to pro hockey prematurely. Pacioretty left after his freshman year, and Palushaj left after his sophomore year. I think these remaining players, they were juniors at the time, they saw what happened to the other two and knew what was going on here, and I thought they had their priorities straight, so it wasn’t even an issue with them leaving.

“I think they wanted to do it right. As I said, they saw what happened to other guys, and they saw what happened to players before them that had left early and weren’t ready and were still playing in the minors, so why would you give up your senior year at Michigan to play in the minors? I think that was their mind-set. Plus, I think they wanted to graduate; these are good kids, good students, and good players.”

Both Caporusso and Hagelin echoed Berenson, stating that getting a degree was important in their decision to remain, but that they also felt they had a lot to learn as players.

“I knew I had a lot more to learn from Coach Berenson and the program,” said Caporusso. “It was a great decision and I’ll be glad to graduate and get my degree this spring.”

“First of all, getting a degree from the University of Michigan is really important for me,” said Hagelin. “I think my dad is really proud as well. In terms of hockey, being the captain of the team has given me a lot of experience. Coach demanded a lot from me before this year, but he demands a lot more. When you’re a senior you have to lead by example, and you can’t take any games off. You have to show up every night and be one of the key players on the team. Being around my senior class for one more year is something I’ll look back at and be very proud of them for all staying. We’ll be friends for the rest of our lives.”

After losing to the Wolverines in St. Louis, Colorado College coach Scott Owens commented on Michigan being “a veteran team.” The Wolverines have eight seniors, including starting goalie Shawn Hunwick, and leaders like Scooter Vaughan, who started the season as a defenseman before moving to forward, where he has flourished.

Those seniors played a crucial role in Michigan advancing out of a quarter where, by Berenson’s own admission, “a lot of people are surprised with who came out of that region.”

Down 2-0 and being outplayed after one period in the first game against Nebraska-Omaha, Caporusso jump-started the Wolverines with a goal early in the second. In the game against CC, Vaughan scored a beautiful single-effort goal early in the first period, beating a Tigers defenseman on the rush and lifting the puck far side over Tigers goalie Joe Howe.

“It’s not just one player,” said Berenson. “If you watched our team on Saturday, you saw the way Matt Rust played, killing penalties and winning faceoffs. There are guys doing things on a regular basis that are setting a good example for the rest of our team. Ben Winnett had probably his best weekend of the season, and he didn’t show up on the scoreboard. And of course, Caporusso and Hagelin continue to be dominant players. So we’re getting, I think, a real good lead-by-example.”

Both Berenson and Caporusso acknowledge that the Wolverines are an underdog in the national semifinal game against North Dakota on Thursday. However, the depth of that senior class, plus its prior experience in the Frozen Four as freshmen, gives Michigan a plus under intangibles.

“I think this team has been an above-average team led by its seniors,” said Berenson. “They’ve been talking about that [the Frozen Four] on a regular basis, but they made it clear, this isn’t about the seniors; this is about the opportunity for the whole team, because they had a chance in the Frozen Four when they were freshmen. The senior class was in Denver, and they got beat in overtime by Notre Dame, and that was a game they would have liked to play again because they would have had a chance to play in the championship game. Who knows; it might be the only chance anybody on this team will have to play in a Frozen Four.”

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  • TheRealCBerkas

    I demand you make this preview of Michigan about North Dakota and our seven titles. Shame on you!!

    • Anonymous

      I guess you really want to be me. Yet again I have never mentioned North Dakota’s titles.

      • B.D.

        Don’t worry, much like his anger towards the Sioux, it is an Envy based psychology.

    • Hockeynut

      Shame on you , and I demand…..Really! Jdorf40 and Suture1 where are you ? I’m not a North Dakota fan, but I would enjoy reading your take on both of these teams past and present.

    • WOW

      Yes we know North Dakota has won seven titles. Not sure what the writers at USCHO were thinking recognizing a group of seniors that have worked hard just to get an opportunity to play your great team . And why in the world would they discuss a program that has 9 national titles ( I think that is #1) 24 FF appearances, pretty sure that is #1 . The coach Red Berenson 600 plus wins , has to in the top ten of greatest coaches ever. He has turned the program into a pipeline for the NHL. Look up the greatest goal ever . I think you will find Mike Legg(Michigan), as one of the readers put it, a Houdini goal from behind the net. I do think we would of had a new #1 if Evan Trupp could of put it in the net. Cool play OMG. Ok ok shame on me.

    • B.D.

      He’s back….

  • CollegeHockeyIsFun

    I guess it is always about North Dakota. I think you should look at the fact the article is about a team. Just like the other article about the North Dakota goalie.

  • guest

    Everyone who pays attention to college knows North Dakota is the team to beat. They have four solid lines, a very good goal tender and one of the best players in the nation. If you compare UND to Michigan , UND is better top to bottom no doubt. If you spend a little time on this site you will see they are doing articles on each team. Being upset over an article on Michigan is crazy . I’m sure the writers at USCHO will have additional articles on North Dakota. I would hope some of the people on this site will do your homework on these two great hockey programs before getting upset. Thank you for a great article.

  • Farley

    As a ND native, it’s my belief that fans from other schools are posing as UND fans simply to make us look stupid. If there actually were this many idiots in ND I’d know, because I basically know all 500 people in the state…

    • guest

      LOL ! I think you are right , if only you could count the pheasant and deer.

    • B.D.

      This is apropos of what?
      Regarding your point that there are some on this site who masquerade as UND fans to do damage to the Fighting Sious, you are correct. But it is a very small number of committed idiots (1-2) who us inflamatory webnames and positions to cause damage.

      One is a Gopher fan.

      Surprisingly the other is a homeotwn boyfrom North Dakota who has “Issues.”

  • mich fan

    Thank you for the article on the seniors. From the above comment better do the next four or five on UND or UMD. Please don’t mention CCHA we are trying to sneak in. Too funny

    • B.D.

      A pair of points:

      I am certain that if USCHO were to do analysis of the subject they would find that UND fans are significantly higher represented in their readership than any other program in college hockey. THis is due to the increased fervor level that Sioux fans have and their interest in the program. You will not find such fervor in the fans of any other program in college hockey. A UND fan is much more likely to travel a greater distance to watch a game than lets say a Yale fan and is more likely to commit greater resources of time and money to feed their needs to keep up with the program.

      Thus a post on USCHO will likely have significantly more readers with connections to the Grand Forks area than to, lets say New Haven – maybe by a factor of 5-1. Thus any article on any program (Merrimack, Army, Miami of Ohio, etc) will undoubtely have a greater readership of North Dakotans than of anyone else.

      UND fans are also mindful of the past history of the program (And even the state) being ignored and even ridiculed by those outside it. Thus we are quick to counter-attack any such we observe. This sometimes causes counters to what was not truly intended as a slight against UND, but it happens.

      • Mich Fan

        Great post. I enjoyed reading your explanation of the North Dakatan fan base with the USCHO. I wasn’t aware of, and don’t agree with, those who ignored or ridiculed UND’s powerhouse program. As I’ve said in the past, just hoping to see a great game. Have been a Michigan fan all my life, but can appreciate great programs from other schools.

  • Pskorick

    good article. I think this semi-final game is going to be good. I don’t think at this deep in the tourney there is an “under-dog”. Michigan is going to play hard, but I hope UND plays harder. Congrats to both teams!!

  • spook

    Just more similarity to these two teams, UND also is senior heavy with players who played in the Frozen four as freshman and then bowed out in the regionals the next two years. This should be a great game, is it Thursday yet?

  • fluidguy

    How did an article about Michigan turn into a UND discussion? Get over yourselves, everyone who knows college hockey is aware of UND and their history. As a Michigan fan I wouldn’t waste my time (or anyone elses) posting on a UND article.

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