The locker room erupted with cheers as Michigan learned it will be playing a regional close to home for the first time since the 2004-05 season. U-M was awarded a No. 3 seed in the Midwest Regional in Fort Wayne, Ind., and will meet No. 2 seed Bemidji State Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
"We were prepared to go anywhere so it doesn't matter to us, and we were prepared to play anyone," head coach Red Berenson said. "We got in the tournament just last night and if you asked me I would have been happy to play North Dakota in Albany, if it came to that.
"I like the idea that we're playing in Fort Wayne. The Michigan fans have a chance to travel down there and it's a simple trip for us. Logistically, school-wise, we don't play until Saturday, it's perfect. We'll bus down there Thursday night, practice Friday and play Saturday."
The Wolverines have enjoyed a storybook run the past three weeks in earning the automatic bid. Faced with the very real prospect of being left out of this year's field, the Maize and Blue were tasked with winning six CCHA playoff games to win the conference tournament title.
They did just that, sweeping Lake Superior State in a first-round series March 5-6, sweeping Michigan State in East Lansing March 12-13 and then capping the streak with a 5-2 victory over Miami in a CCHA semifinal Friday and a 2-1 win over Northern Michigan in the league championship last night.
"We came into the CCHA Tournament kind of distraught at how our season was and now after going through the six games and winning the CCHA Tournament, we're excited," senior defenseman Steve Kampfer said. "We know what we can do and what kind of team we are and we're looking forward to this next weekend."
The Wolverines were bounced from the NCAA Tournament in a first-round game last year, losing 2-0 to Air Force. They were in the Frozen Four two years ago but fell to Notre Dame in a national semifinal. This season, U-M gets Bemidji State (23-9-4) - the CHA's regular-season champion.
The Beavers were the Cinderella story a year ago, upsetting a pair of teams, including No. 1 seed Notre Dame, to advance to the Frozen Four. They have been a top-10 team all season but enter the NCAA Tournament just 1-2-2 in their last five, losing in a College Hockey America semifinal to forfeit the league's automatic bid.
"They're a team that knocked Notre Dame out of the Tournament last year," Berenson said. "They beat Miami this year. So they're a legitimate team. They beat Minnesota in a big game. They're a good team. They came out of nowhere last year but they're not going to surprise anyone this year."
If Michigan can get by Bemidji State, it should see CCHA rival Miami in the second round. The RedHawks are the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional and will play No. 4 seed Alabama-Huntsville in Saturday's first contest, at 4:00 p.m.
"Miami is a great team but at the same time, I don't care about them right now," junior forward Louie Caporusso said. "Our focus is on Bemidji. Obviously people are going to be looking at the possible scenario of us and Miami, but right now we're focusing on our first game."
U-M will enter the regional, perhaps, the hottest team in the nation. No other program in the field of 16 has won six in a row - Boston College, however, is unbeaten in its last nine (8-0-1) -- giving the Wolverines the confidence they will need to win two Midwest Regional games.
"I like our momentum," Berenson said. "Obviously, everyone's goal is to get to the Frozen Four, but if you're a team that is only an hour away [like we are from Detroit], it's pretty obvious that's our goal.
"Now we have to find a way to win Saturday's game and get in that Sunday game. If we're playing Sunday, we have a chance to get to Ford Field and that's what it's all about."
TheWolverine.com will have full coverage of the Midwest Regional this week and through the weekend.
To listen to the entire interviews with Berenson, Kampfer, Caporusso and junior Carl Hagelin (including Swedish trash talk), click on their links.
Tickets: Passes for all three games can be purchased for $87 beginning at 9:00 a.m. Monday morning on MGoBlue.com or by calling the Michigan ticket office.