Michigan’s unlikely parallels

With the Wolverines facing a WCHA foe for the national championship, many people are drawing parallels between this year and 1996, when Michigan beat Colorado College, 3-2, in overtime to earn its first championship since 1964.

20110408_Michigan_practice – Images by Candace Horgan

I am reminded more, though, of Michigan’s 1998 title run. In Boston, the Wolverines had to go through Hockey East teams — New Hampshire and Boston College — in very hostile territory. A year before, Michigan had been eliminated in the Frozen Four in Milwaukee by Boston University a day before Brendan Morrison uttered his famous, “Sometimes the best team doesn’t win,” line when accepting the Hobey Baker award. That 1997 team was the squad loaded with talent, the one expected to go all the way.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone in recalling 1998. Friday, in Michigan’s pre-skate press conference, coach Red Berenson was asked if he’d had a team before that advanced to the title game that wasn’t expected to do so, and the coach went back to 1998 himself.

“Ironically, our ’98 team, after we graduated that Brendan Morrison class that was so strong, in the ’98 team, we had four seniors. One of them was Marty Turco. One of them was Billy Muckalt, who was an All-American that year, and Matt Herr.

“That time, ironically, we had to play against North Dakota — if any of you remember — at Yost Ice Arena in the regional. North Dakota was the No. 1 team in the west, and Boston College was the No. 1 team in the east, and we got out of that game against North Dakota, which was one of the most memorable games in my college hockey history and moved on to the Frozen Four.

“And then we got by New Hampshire, and then we played Boston College at the Fleet Center with a team with about 10 freshmen, so we weren’t supposed to be there. I said after the game, ‘We won the game but we weren’t the best team.’ Boston College was clearly the better team, but we had Turco and we had a little luck and it was a Minnesota boy who scored the winning goal for Michigan, Josh Langfeld. And he was here at the game last night.”

In the week before the Frozen Four in Boston, I talked to Berenson about his team’s run to the tournament, resulting in a feature called, “No Place Like Home.” In that piece, Berenson talked about the blue-collar nature of that specific Michigan hockey team.

“I think they’re good kids,” said Berenson. He was talking about Billy Muckalt, Turco, Bubba Berenzweig — yes, a kid named “Bubba” playing for the Wolverines. “They’re not just hockey players — and I admire good hockey players. But I think some hockey players come very close to being hockey bums, too, and I don’t want any hockey bums playing for me.”

Throughout this week, Berenson has praised his role players, including Scooter Vaughan, a former defenseman moved to forward, and Shawn Hunwick, the walk-on goalie who made a national impression with 40 saves in a shutout win over the heavily favored Fighting Sioux in semifinal action Thursday night.

It’s impossible not to draw parallels between Hunwick and Turco. Turco was always a little cocky, sometimes a little too bold outside his crease, utterly fearless in play — and the key to Michigan’s overtime win against Boston College in 1998.

Hunwick’s personality is different — he’s more approachable, publicly funnier, very direct and self-deprecating — but in play it’s easy to see echoes of Turco. Hunwick takes chances outside of the crease. He has wickedly quick reflexes. He elevates fearlessness to new levels on the ice.

And he’s got that certain … something that Turco had in 1998. Berenson, of course, knows exactly what that is.

“He’s got a nice balance,” said Berenson, “between cockiness and confidence and humility.”