The Wolverine

May 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE MAY 2022 M uch of the drama and anticipa- tion of sport hinges on the un- known. The best team doesn't always win. The grizzly doesn't always snag the salmon. That's great if you're the salmon, or a fan thereof. Those on Team Grizzly lum- ber away feeling mighty empty. The rest of the nation figured to en- dure a bear of a time hanging with Mel Pearson's hockey squad and Bev Plocki's women's gymnastics team this year. The former sported seven NHL first- round picks, talent enough to carry the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament to the Frozen Four. The latter attempted to defend its 2021 national championship with the same headliners as last year. All that and the better part of $100 will fill your gas tank these days. Michigan hockey fell two wins shy of an NCAA-record 10th national champi- onship, falling 3-2 in overtime to Denver in the Frozen Four semifinals. Pearson makes no apologies for his crew, calling this the most fun he's enjoyed in 40 years of Division I hockey. Still, he added perspective to his team's accomplishment. "Just because you get drafted and you're a high draft pick, no one sprinkles magic dust on you and you become this great player," Pearson observed. "You have to earn that." His team earned its way, nearly to the top. But outplaying eventual national champion Denver for most of overtime wasn't enough. "We're in the game," Pearson stressed. "It's one shot, could go either way. That's single-game elimination, especially in hockey, that makes it so difficult to win." Plocki went so far as to break the un- written coach's rule in talking possible repeat with The Wolverine, in last sum- mer's post-title euphoria. And why not? The Wolverines returned All-Americans Sierra Brooks, Abby Heiskell, Natalie Wojcik and more. Again, it wasn't quite enough to plant the flag atop Mt. Everest, this version occurring in Fort Worth, Texas. Despite numerous standout efforts, being forced to count falls in two separate events brought down U-M's hopes. "We picked a bad day to have a bad day," Plocki told The Michigan Daily. "I had hoped that consistency would be a benefit to us today. But sometimes all it takes is one little thing to derail you from that sort of zone, and sometimes it's just not your day." All of that should not, and cannot, wipe out a season's worth of achieve- ment. But it still stings deeply for the all-or-nothing crowd, and let's be hon- est — some of those folks reside on the teams themselves, who wanted it all. That brings us to Michigan football, which Jim Harbaugh described this spring as "scary good." These Wolver- ines want plenty following a break- through 2021, including a takedown of Ohio State, a Big Ten championship and a playoff berth. Personnel losses aside, Harbaugh's crew could repeat, for reasons detailed elsewhere in this issue. While former Wolverine Doug Skene agrees with many of those reasons, he offers an historical not-so-fast on assumptions of a repeat. "I'm convinced at this point, under the Harbaugh era, it does not matter where we play the Michigan State game," Skene ruefully observed. "It doesn't matter. "Michigan State continues to under- stand this particular rivalry a little bit better than we do. They did that again last year, up in East Lansing. I believe a team of less talent beat us, when we should have won that football game … "It's frustrating to me, because they just find a way to beat us." Ohio State has found a way, in Colum- bus, since the year 2000. That's when Drew Henson danced into the north end zone at Ohio Stadium for a clinching TD on a naked bootleg. Since the 38-26 U-M triumph at The Snakepit, Michigan re- mains unattired in the win column. This year's regular-season finale takes place in Columbus. "Coming up on 25 years?" Skene mused. "I'm too pragmatic. As much as I want the unusual to happen, Ohio State has a Heisman finalist at the quarterback position, and they have a young man, [receiver Jaxon] Smith-Njigba — that kid runs like the wind. He's really, really good. "I have a hard time believing that we're going to go into Columbus and win, just because of past practice." And yet, there's the unknown. "You can do it," Skene insisted. "It's not out of the realm of reality. Part of that strategy is that, if you can [control the line of scrimmage offensively], then C.J. Stroud is on the sideline, watching. Then all you've got to do is get a few stops. "Get a few stops, score a few more touchdowns while he's standing there watching, and you can do it. But I haven't seen it in 20-something years. I have a hard time believing it's going to happen this year." He'll still be watching, in great antici- pation, for an ambush in the grizzlies' den. ❏ WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON The Weight Of Expectations All eyes were on U-M's top-seeded hockey and women's gymnastics teams in the post- season. Their dreams of bringing home addi- tional NCAA titles may have been dashed, but — like football — both squads still cel- ebrated Big Ten championships this year. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine.

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