Drama, emotion on display as CCHA wraps up 42-year history

Just before the Michigan portion of the postgame news conference Sunday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena, senior Kevin Lynch leaned over to say something to coach Red Berenson.

What Lynch said was inaudible, but Berenson’s response definitely was.

2013 CCHA Championship

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“Four years come to an end sooner or later,” Berenson said.

Couple that with the fact Notre Dame topped the Wolverines 3-1 for the final CCHA Mason Cup championship, closing the book on the conference’s 42-year run, and it made for emotional drama.

Irish coach Jeff Jackson, who previously coached in the CCHA at Lake Superior State and who has been at Notre Dame since 2005, said it’s bittersweet to win the last CCHA playoff crown at Joe Louis Arena. Jackson also graduated from Michigan State in 1978.

“I coached the first-ever team back in 1991 [Lake Superior State] that won this tournament here and it’s very special to win the last one here,” Jackson said. “This place used to be packed and it used to be that winning this tournament was bigger than playing in the NCAA tournament — going to the NCAA tournament was just gravy.

“I think it’s like that in all sports, like college basketball, where the NCAA tournament is what everyone tends to focus on, but winning your conference championship is just as special.”

Berenson, who appeared stoic like he always does in media sessions, was outspoken with the assembled media.

“It’s too bad it’s over,” Berenson said. “This is the only league I’ve ever coached in and when I played at Michigan, we were in the WCHA and that was before schools like Wisconsin and some other programs even had a team.”

Something else came to an end Sunday: the Wolverines’ string of 22 straight NCAA tournament berths.

“I can’t tell you we deserved to [win the CCHA tournament], but we probably had as much momentum as we have had all year,” Berenson said. “We were in a good place and we had a tough game last night against Miami. That was a huge win for our team just to get into this game and maybe we did not have enough gas. I don’t think anyone deserves to win, but we were definitely on a mission, and we got cut short.”

Once the stands emptied and the cleaning crew came out, a couple skaters in CCHA jerseys took to the ice.

One young lad, clad in a Northern Michigan jersey, perhaps summed up the entire weekend when he skated off the ice with a clenched fist.

“We love you, CCHA,” he yelled. “Thank you, CCHA.”