The Michigan men's ice hockey team won the national championship in 1996. It still wasn't the most impactful thing the Wolverines accomplished that season.
See, the Wolverines were the 49th team to win college hockey's big dance. Not that it isn't special — it very much is. It's the goal of every team that takes the ice at the start of each season. But the 1996 title was Michigan's eighth. It had happened before.
What took place in the Wolverines' 1996 regional semifinal matchup with Minnesota had not. Ever.
Roughly 7:20 into the second period, Minnesota had the 2-1 lead. The Golden Gophers controlled play and were in command of the game. Things got even worse for the Wolverines when junior forward John Madden carried the puck behind the Minnesota net, Gophers d-man Brian Lafleur tackled him and the referee's arm stayed down.
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So, Michigan forward Mike Legg reached deep into his bag of tricks and the rest was history. All alone behind the net and with no close defender on his left side, he settled the puck on his blade, brought the puck to about knee-high and then stuffed it over Minnesota goalie Steve DeBus' glove.
"I don't believe I saw what I think I just saw," the color announcer for the game said right after Legg potted the incredible goal.
That goal wasn't just enough to tie the game, 2-2 — Michigan went on to win the game, 4-3, and land a spot in the Frozen Four. From there, the Wolverines took down Boston University and Colorado College to win the national championship.
"It was a huge goal," then-Michigan bench boss Red Berenson said after the win over Minnesota. "That put your sense of humor to the test."
Still, the score was bigger than just powering Michigan to beat rival Minnesota for a Frozen Four berth. It was impossible to know at the time, but the move that became known as "The Michigan" inspired generations of hockey players after to try and replicate the same move, and it's worked.
Most recently, BU's Wilmer Skoog successfully pulled it off on Feb. 4. Carolina Hurricanes superstar Andrei Svechnikov accomplished the feat twice in the 2019-20 season. Earlier this season, former Terrier Trevor Zegras put his own incredible twist on the move and flipped the puck over the net for Anaheim Ducks teammate Sonny Milano to bat in for the score.
For the second time this week, Wilmer Skoog made it on SportsCenter! #SCTop10 pic.twitter.com/E1L5oR3bNZ— BU Men's Hockey (@TerrierHockey) February 5, 2022
The goal hasn't always been such a fun part of hockey though. Because hockey was defined by toughness, physicality and respect in 1996, Legg faced a ton of backlash in the immediate aftermath of the outside-the-box goal.
"I had my life threatened," Legg said in an interview with Sportsnet in January 2020. "I had a bounty on my head. At the start of games, guys would come up to me and say, 'If you're going to try that tonight, we are bench-clearing-brawling you. Like, we will jump you.' I'm like 'Oh okay, that's nice to know.'"
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Legg got the last laugh. He kept trying the move and his offensive creativity paid off. Not only did his goal help lead Michigan to a national championship win, but we're still talking about the move being used today. And with today's game focused primarily on speed and skill, it will only be used with more regularity.
As for the initial goal itself, it also got the name of "the lacrosse goal" because of it replicating a lacrosse-move. That led to a reporter asking Legg after the game if he'd ever played lacrosse. When he said he'd never played, teammate Bill Muckalt interjected with some perspective of his own.
"I have," he said. "And I've never scored a goal like that."