If you have ever been to Michigan at all, you know exactly what the “Michigan In Hockey” motto stands for. The Midwestern state is absolutely covered with snow from November to March, and the puck really does play nicely there. You can practice your puck handling skills almost any time of the year, and that’s what makes it such a popular place for hockey players to call home. Whether you’re from Lake Ontario or the Great Lakes, you’ll be able to find your place in the hockey world at the University of Michigan.
The hockey team there currently holds the record for the most Division I championship titles, winning 26 in total. It’s one of the most successful hockey programs in the country, and there’s a good reason for that. Not only are the students majoring in sports administration some of the most knowledgeable about the game in the country, but Coach Red Berenson has had over 300 players go on to play in the NHL, including some of the biggest names in hockey history. The hockey program has produced over 70 All-Americans and 30 Hobey Baker Award winners.
So, what exactly is the Michigan In Hockey thing, and how does it work? Glad you asked, because here’s a complete guide to playing hockey in Michigan, including an overview of the program, its recruiting process, and much more.
The Wolverines: An Overview Of The Program
As mentioned above, the University of Michigan has one of the most successful hockey programs in the country. The team has been to the NCAA Tournament all but one year since the mid-1950s, and has appeared in the finals seven times, accumulating some impressive titles along the way. One of its most recent successes came in 2017, when the Wolverines defeated Northeastern 3-2 in overtime to claim their 26th national championship.
The team’s star is undoubtedly defenseman Johnathan Hayes. Considered one of the best American defenders of all time, Hayes won two consecutive Norris Trophies as the league’s top defender from 1998 to 2000. He currently owns or shares a number of NHL records, including most career regular-season assists (488) and points (706) by a defenseman; most playoff assists (94) and points (124) by a defenseman, as well as the most playoff goals (30) by a defenseman.
Another prominent Wolverine is forward Jimmy Howard, who owns the franchise record for most shutouts in a single season with 15. In 2018, he became the first player in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup and Olympic gold medals in the same year. He has been selected to play in the All-Star game 12 times, and won the Jennings Trophylus (named after Jack “The Jennings” Jennings, a former owner of the Detroit Red Wings) five times. The Red Wings selected Howard with the 27th overall pick in the 2003 NHL Draft.
In terms of teams that play in the NCAA, Michigan State is considered the rival, and Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are its main conference opponents. As for its location, well, if you’re a fan of snow, you’ll feel right at home. There are 12 other Division I schools that Michigan borders with, and the state is home to the National Hockey League’s Detroit Red Wings and the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins.
The Ice Sheets: Midwesterners’ Favorite Pastime
Speaking of the Red Wings, it wouldn’t be complete without mentioning their connection to the University of Michigan. That connection started in 1936, when the team’s president, Joe Louis, donated money to help build the school’s new hockey arena. The Joe Louis Arena, now named after Louis, is considered the unofficial center of the Michigan hockey universe. Some 1,500 people show up for each game there, and that’s even before you take into account the thousands of fans that travel from all over the Midwestern region to witness a hockey game at the Joe Louis Arena.
Speaking of traveling, the Big Ten Conference, of which Michigan is a member, doesn’t just limit its members to within its borders. All of its schools are geographically close, so fans have the opportunity to see their team play near them wherever they go. That way, even if you aren’t a local sports enthusiast, you’ll have a chance to follow sports teams that are a part of your everyday life. For example, if you’re a Wisconsinite, you’ll have the opportunity to see the Badgers take on their conference opponents, among others.
Becoming A Wolverine: The Recruiting Process
Although the University of Michigan is one of the most established hockey programs in the country, it still takes a lot of work to get on its roster. Just because you’re a good hockey player doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically make the team. In fact, only about 5% of all applicants to the university make it into the freshman class. The recruiting process for the hockey team begins in the fall and continues through the winter before classes begin in the spring.
During the recruiting process, you’ll have the opportunity to go through an on-campus visit and meet with the coaching staff and players. The visit will be an in-person assessment of your capabilities, and you have to pass with flying colors for the coaches to even consider you for the team. If you’re a hockey player from the Midwest, you’ll know exactly what to expect by this point.
The Coaches: The Heart And The Mind Of The Program
The coaches at the University of Michigan are some of the best in the country at what they do. Most of them have been around the hockey block a few times themselves, so they know what it takes to make a difference. Besides, many of them have had extensive coaching experience at the college level, so they know exactly what they’re doing and how to get the most out of their players.
Coach Red Berenson was an assistant coach with the Minnesota North Stars when that team defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 to win the Stanley Cup in 1974. He has since coached the Stars, Colorado Avalanche, and the University of Michigan, amassing a record of 652-428-114. His teams have appeared in the NCAA Tournament 23 times and made it to the finals 12 times, winning five. In his 23 years, Berenson has led his teams to seven NCAA championship games, winning five.
The Roster: Who’ll Be On It, And What Can You Expect
The last piece of the puzzle is the roster. Like with almost every other competitive team sport, size is almost always a major factor. The University of Michigan isn’t exactly known for being the biggest school in the nation, with only about 6,000 students, but that certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t any giants on the team. The average height of a Wolverine is about 5’11” and around 150 pounds, which means they usually need a couple of extra people on hand to guard the boards. The height requirement is for the construction of the team’s new locker room, which was completed in 2013 and has enough room for the players to have their own separate stalls.
On average, the team has about 18 players on its roster, which is a little less than the NCAA maximum of 20. However, because there are only six teams in the conference, the minimum requirement is usually waived. This means that the University of Michigan can have as many as 24 players on its roster, which can create a lot of competition for spots. This is probably the biggest single reason why it takes so long for players to establish themselves as regulars on the team, because there is always plenty of competition for positions. In most cases, it takes a while for a freshman to even make the varsity team, much less become a regular and prominent player. In other words, don’t expect to jump right into the starting lineup. Instead, like with most other programs, it’s a gradual process, built on trust and experience.
If you’re fortunate enough to get on the team as a freshman, you’ll have an opportunity to play right away as long as you maintain a B average. However, if you want to become a regular, you’ll have to wait until at least your sophomore year to get a crack at the starting job. In this case, you’ll have to be really, really good or be the son or daughter of a very prominent alumni to even make the team. Sometimes, it takes several tries before a student is finally able to break through and become a regular on the team. In fact, only one player has ever done it in four years. It’s a very competitive atmosphere and a unique experience for any student-athlete, but more so for hockey players, as they have to navigate this new and sometimes daunting world of college sports. Regardless, it’s definitely an experience that they’ll cherish for the rest of their lives.