Frozen Four villain is … Wolverines!
Villains are important in sports. When it comes time for the postseason, whether it be playoffs or a tournament, people need somebody to root against.
Whether it’s a player, coach or the team in general, villains give championships that little extra something. Fans may not have a hero to root for, but watching the villain fail makes games just as fun to watch. Maybe even better.
There is no straight-up villain at the men’s basketball Final Four. Duke has been eliminated and the teams involved in the FBI recruiting scandal aren’t anywhere close to national finals site San Antonio.
The Final Four does have a hero in Loyola-Chicago, whose impressive run as a No. 11 seed and its entertaining and photogenic nun, Sister Jean, have become fan favorites.
However, the only villain is whatever team stands in the Ramblers’ path. For all the past week, that was Michigan, but if Loyola won on Saturday, the villain would then move to the winner between Villanova and Kansas.
College hockey’s Frozen Four, on the other hand, is a different story. Of the teams remaining, there’s Minnesota-Duluth, which is located three hours from St. Paul, so its fans will be the loudest in the Xcel Energy Center. Add in two good Big Ten teams in Ohio State and Notre Dame, and then there’s the bad guys.
Michigan will be the one team few will be rooting for inside the arena and it’s not because the Wolverines are “bad” guys. It’s because they’re the most storied program there.
U of M leads NCAA Division I college hockey all-time with nine national titles and many fans don’t want them to win their 10th.
Some of the other national powerhouses don’t want Michigan to extend its championship lead and the other two Big Ten programs who will be in St. Paul are searching for their first championship. It’d sting if they couldn’t bring one home and got to see Ann Arbor win yet another.
How much are the Wolverines hated in college hockey? Pretty heavily. When I attended a West Regional game a few years ago, Michigan was competing way across the country and when it got upset by Air Force, the arena erupted in cheers.
A girl across the aisle asked her dad why everybody cheered and her dad smiled and said “Because nobody likes Michigan.”
That’s pretty evident among hockey fans up here in the Upper Peninsula, too. After all, Northern Michigan University battled the Wolverines in the CCHA for years and people tell me how fun the atmosphere was at both Lakeview Arena and the Berry Events Center whenever U-M came to Marquette.
Over in Houghton, Michigan Tech used to have a big rivalry with Michigan back in the WCHA when head coach John MacInnes was behind the bench, but that slowed in the 1980s due to some conference shifting, although the two teams did sometimes tangle at the Great Lakes Invitational as each is a cohost.
However, that hateful fire got reignited a year ago when former Tech head coach Mel Pearson left the U.P. to coach the Wolverines. Pearson was now-retired U of M coach Red Berenson’s longtime assistant and was rumored to be Berenson’s successor for years.
When Berenson finally stepped down, it was widely assumed that Pearson would head back downstate — and he did.
Despite that, many Huskies fans were surprised and angry that he decided to move back to Ann Arbor and they’ve made that quite clear recently. U of M missed the NCAA Tournament last year and now in his first season as coach, Pearson has brought the Wolverines to the Frozen Four and that definitely stings Tech fans.
The Huskies did have a great season under new coach Joe Shawhan, but when Tech was eliminated and U of M continued its run, the disdain for the Wolverines rose right to the surface.
If Pearson were to win a national title this week, it would be salt dumped into a wound that was starting to close.
So if you plan on settling in this week to watch the Frozen Four and you need someone to root for, the other three are good options. Yes, even the Buckeyes are worth cheering for as much as it may pain you to do so.
But if you just want someone to root against, the Wolverines are the perfect team and feel free to enjoy it.
Chances are you’ll have a lot of people doing the same, including here in the U.P.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal. net.