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March 23, 2013

Michigan won't be satisfied until it wins CCHA Championship

Three players and head coach Red Berenson sat before the media Saturday with somber faces. You wouldn't know it by looking at them but the Wolverines had just blitzkrieged No. 1 seed Miami 6-2 to move on to the CCHA finals. They simply are not yet satisfied, not with the biggest game of the year still remaining.

"Let's face it, we're the only team in the CCHA Tournament that really needs a win to stay alive in the big picture," Berenson said. "Ohio State lost. Miami is going to move on. They will be a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan has to be a desperate team."

Berenson found more to dislike about his team's performance than to like about it, and while almost everyone else in the building, including RedHawks' coach Enrico Blasi, might disagree with Berenson's assessment, the Maize and Blue bought in, knowing they will have to play better Sunday against Notre Dame.

And here we are, at the precipice of, perhaps, the greatest postseason run in Berenson's career. One more game. One more win and the Wolverines earn a 23rd consecutive NCAA Tournament bid after a 13-18-3 regular season, and the scary thing is, this team can play better than what we saw Saturday when Michigan outscored Miami 6-2 but was outchanced 35-27.

That said, U-M was pretty impressive for considerable stretches of its victory, like when it scored three second-period goals in a 2:11 span. Or when it opened the third period looking to recapture momentum and scored just 55 seconds into the frame. Or when Miami went to the power play with 10:19 left in the game trailing 5-2 but tilting the ice in its favor only to be snuffed out by the Maize and Blue penalty kill.

Even if Berenson won't allow his team to see it - and that's his job knowing this is not the time for complacency - this team is getting better and better with every game.

Last weekend, in a CCHA quarterfinal sweep of Western Michigan the Wolverines scored nine goals against a team that was allowing just 1.94 per game. Then today Michigan netted six against a Miami squad surrendering a conference-best 1.62 per contest, and a MU team that had not allowed five markers in a single game all year.

Berenson can downplay his team's result and effort, but Michigan continues to peak with each opponent, earning redemption victories after a regular season to forget. And next up is Notre Dame, which went 4-0 against U-M this season, including a weekend sweep in South Bend Feb. 8-9. That was the last time the Maize and Blue lost, going 8-0-1 since.

"We're a different team now," said senior captain A.J. Treais, who ended a 14-game goal drought. "We've come a long way so you can throw that record out the door. Tomorrow is a new series. Winner is moving on."

While there seems to be no stopping these Wolverines, the Irish their next victim en route to the NCAA Tournament, Berenson won't quit critiquing until the mission has been accomplished.

"Our goal was to get into the championship game, and now we'll be in it, and now it's what we do with it," he said. "The weekend is not over, and our team knows that. They put it on the line against Miami but they know that tomorrow's game is going to be tougher."

In other words, hold off on the celebration. For now. In 24 hours, if Michigan earns one more win, Berenson might even crack a smile.






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