The Wolverine

May 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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30 THE WOLVERINE MAY 2022 FROZEN OUT BY CHRIS BALAS I f any year proved how hard it is for even the best teams to win a na- tional championship in hockey, it was the 2021-22 campaign. With four of the top five NHL Draft picks on the roster, elite goaltending and a nice blend of veterans and young guys, Mel Pearson's fifth Michigan team was the favorite to win it all. It featured the No. 1 overall pick in sophomore defenseman Owen Power, the Big Ten Tournament's Most Outstanding Player in sophomore goalie Erik Portillo … and yet once again, the Wolverines fell in the semifinals. U-M has made the finals only once since winning it all in 1998 — in 2011, a 3-2 OT loss to Minnesota-Duluth. It had become such a trend even before this year's tournament that Pearson was asked if there was a "curse" on the program. Michigan was making its record 26th Frozen Four appearance, more than any other program, but hadn't won it all since the '98 championship. "We can't change the past," Pearson told reporters before the tournament started. "But we have something to say about the future." They did — but at the end of the day, they didn't change the narrative that Michigan just couldn't get over the hump. The Wolverines were the significant fa- vorite to beat Denver in the first semifi- nal, with the winner of Minnesota and Minnesota State awaiting the winner in the April 9 final. Instead, they never led in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Pioneers that ended the season April 7 in Boston. Denver went on to capture the crown with a 5-1 victory over Minnesota State. Michigan got off to a slow start in Bos- ton, failing to notch even a shot on goal through the game's first 16 minutes. The Pioneers took the fight to U-M, and while the Wolverines responded, Denver got the break it needed in overtime to win. The Pioneers' neutral zone defense stumped Michigan from the get-go and continued to frustrate the Wolverines through three periods. Denver "owned the middle of the ice" in coach David Car- le's words, not allowing Michigan to gen- erate any speed through the neutral zone. "They like to make plays through peo- ple," Carle told ESPN2 during a first-pe- riod break, and his team wasn't going to allow it if they could help it. And they didn't, for the most part. Denver scored first, in the first period, but U-M finally got the equalizer when senior forward Jimmy Lambert picked up the puck in front after a Michigan rush and scored to the left of goaltender Mag- nus Chrona. Denver took the lead again in the third period on a deflected shot from the left post that got behind Portillo with 14:24 left. Michigan was getting outshot 18-10 at that point and remained out of sorts. But U-M responded quickly. Sopho-

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