ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Michigan hockey team has drawn inspiration from the tournament run made by the men's basketball team.
John Beilein's squad kept getting better before finishing runner-up to Villanova on Monday in the national championship game in San Antonio, Texas.
The UM hockey team (22-14-3) has advanced to the Frozen Four at the Xcel Energy Center and faces Notre Dame (27-9-2) on Thursday (9:30, ESPN2) in a semifinal. UM split a four-game regular-season series with the Irish.
"I think they were the underdogs going into that tournament," Michigan senior forward Tony Calderone said of the Wolverines' basketball team. "Ann Arbor was pretty crazy but I think we all got together as a team and watched it. So, yeah, I think (there's) a lot of similarities between us and it was extremely exciting and good for Michigan."
The hockey team was picked to finish sixth among the Big Ten's seven teams.
Michigan sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne said the men's basketball team wasn't ranked early in the season, but kept winning.
"Seeing the stuff that they did, being unranked in January and then kind of working their way up, very similar to us," Lavigne said. "Watching the team shows us we can do the same thing. They made it to the finals; that's our goal right now, just one at a time. And the atmosphere that they brought to Ann Arbor and the energy that they brought, it's translated on to us and it's just a good vibe."
Keys to confidence
Michigan struggled early in the season, but is riding a 14-4-1 run to the Frozen Four. Players have repeatedly said getting swept by Notre Dame in January helped spur their improvement.
"They were number one in the country at the time, and we played with them," Calderone said of a pair of 2-1 losses to Notre Dame. "I think each game was a one-goal game, all power-play goals. So that gave us confidence."
"Once we started getting that confidence we run into Minnesota the following weekend and was able to sweep Minnesota in Minnesota, which was the first (time), I think, since 1977. And so, yeah, that was really just a snowball effect and confidence kept going. So, I think that's our strongest asset right now is our confidence, and hopefully we can keep it going."
A cup of courage
Michigan hockey coach Mel Pearson convinced his players of the importance of blocking shots in the second half of the season.
He apparently convinced one player, freshman forward Dakota Raabe, of the importance of wearing an athletic cup to improve his shot blocking courage. Wearing protection certainly improves the chances of staying healthy when you step in front of a wicked one-timer from close range.
"We didn't do a very good job in the first half," Pearson said of blocking shots. "It was just a constant showing on video. And we finally realized when one player wasn't blocking shots, he wasn't wearing a cup. If you can believe that.
"Anyway, it has been a better buy-in since we started wearing cups."
Michigan leads the country with 600 blocked shots this season. The Wolverines rank fourth nationally with an average of 15.38 blocked shots per game.
The good old days
Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson remembers when college hockey teams were full of players who would stay four years and earn a degree. He remembers recruiting older players when he coached at Lake Superior State back in the 1980s and 1990s, allowing his teams to compete against programs that had younger, high-end offensive players.
"You have a lot of attrition with the National Hockey League signing players before they're seniors," Jackson said of what is helping to create parity now in college hockey.
Jackson said having a lot of four-year players is now "the olden days ... and I miss those days."
This article is written by George Sipple from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.