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March 1, 2013The Michigan hockey team finished February with a better record (4-2) than the basketball team (3-4) but the Wolverines have unfinished business remaining. They need to sweep Ferris State this weekend or else they won't play at Yost Ice Arena again this year.
"This is a special place, and has been my home for four years, and it's definitely in the back of your mind that if you don't put together a good weekend, this could be it for playing in front of our fans," said captain A.J. Treais, one of five seniors that will honored Saturday night.
The Maize and Blue welcome Ferris State to Ann Arbor with much on the line. Trailing Lake Superior State by one point for the coveted eighth spot - which comes with home-ice advantage for the first round of the CCHA playoffs March 8-10 - and leading Northern Michigan by two points, U-M faces a must-win Friday and a must-win Saturday.
"We know the only chance we have to play at home next weekend is if we sweep, and on top of that it's Senior Night," senior alternate captain Kevin Lynch said. "It's obviously important to get on a roll. And it means a lot to the seniors to go out with a great weekend at Yost.
"I think that motivation will inspire the seniors to play their best hockey and will give the underclassmen incentive to give that extra effort knowing this could be our last two home games ever."
Michigan is 6-0 in its final regular-season home game over the last six seasons, having last lost in 2006. U-M won in dramatic fashion in 2011, with senior Carl Hagelin scoring in the final minute to tie Western Michigan and in overtime to win it. A year ago, Treais netted the game-winning extra-session goal to best Northern Michigan.
"That's probably the most memorable goal I've ever scored at Michigan, and I really want to go out on top like those guys did the past three years," said Treais.
With LSSU and NMU squaring off, anything can happen this weekend. If the two teams split Michigan has to come out of the series with five points to host (a win and a shootout win would do it) and if the Lakers sweep, U-M is out of luck. If Northern sweeps, the Maize and Blue still have to stay ahead of them.
The good news is Michigan is coming off its second sweep of the year, playing some of its best hockey after knocking off Ohio State 5-3 and 6-3 in Columbus.
"We should get some confidence, bottom line," assistant coach Brian Wiseman said. "We played hard, we played well, and guys should understand there is a particular way we have to play, and when we do that, we have a chance to win games, and I think we saw that.
"There was some resiliency in our team. Whether we had to kill off a penalty early, or they got a goal, we were able to respond in those situations. Those are key momentum swings, and momentum plays a huge factor in hockey.
"We talk about it often, especially special teams. We don't have to score on a power play every time but it can turn the momentum. Or a PK they're expected to carry the play, but against Ohio State we had two shorthanded chances, breakaways, and those are good momentum swings for us.
"That's big going forward -- we're going to have situations with bad calls, tough puck luck and things won't go our way always and the key is how we respond to those, and I thought we responded pretty well over the weekend."
U-M also picked up some much-needed road confidence, knowing that when the Maize and Blue do go on the road this postseason, whether it's the opening round of the playoffs or the quarterfinals, they have finally found a way to be successful away from home.
"It did a lot for our confidence because in the back of our minds we knew our road record hadn't been good [1-8-2 before OSU] and we know going into the CCHA playoffs that if we're going to make a run at this thing then playing on the road is something we're going to have to do," Lynch said.
"We don't want to look too far ahead but we're going to have to play on the road again, and we can look back at this weekend and reflect on what it took to get the job done," Wiseman added. "It was guys laying it out the line, the small things that are so crucial and important, especially in the playoffs."