Michigan's Jacob Trouba, who has 12 goals and 15 assists, is a finalist for the CCHA Freshman of the Year award. (Matt Gade/Associated Press)
Detroit — Michigan has made Joe Louis Arena its second home for nearly a quarter-century, and would love nothing more than to close out the final chapter of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association's 42-year history by making a little more history this weekend.
Michigan is trying to become the first team to enter the CCHA Championships with a sub-.500 record (17-18-3) and leave with the Mason Cup.
In the process, the Wolverines hope to keep its national record streak of 22 straight NCAA Tournament appearances intact.
"I told you a month ago, our goal was to get to Joe Louis, and at that time it sounded just about unreachable," said Michigan coach Red Berenson, whose team plays Miami in Saturday's semifinals (Notre Dame plays Ohio State in the other semifinal). "Now we have to take advantage of (having a chance)."
And what a chance it would be, especially if Michigan wins the final CCHA title.
Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State join the Big Ten next year, while Notre Dame moves to Hockey East and Miami to the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
Backup goaltender vital
Michigan entered the CCHA Championships in a similar situation three years ago, needing to win to keep its Tournament streak alive.
And as the No. 7 seed, Michigan upset regular season champion Miami, then Northern Michigan to win the title.
"All of a sudden we got going, and I credit (backup goaltender Shawn) Hunwick for being a big part of that," Berenson said. "That was a special moment, winning it with our backs against the wall."
This season, Berenson again is relying on a backup goaltender to lead the Wolverines — freshman Steve Racine.
In the quarterfinals, Racine delivered in a 4-3, 5-1 sweep of Western Michigan.
"I think we're playing better defensively," Berenson said. "Now they have a little more confidence, a little more momentum, and that's what it takes this time of year.
"Racine's playing kind of like the team, stepping up when he's had to. … Everybody else had been given a chance and they just weren't doing it. It was his chance and he's taken advantage of it."
So, what has Racine done differently? He has a 2.00 goals against average and .916 save percentage during Michigan's eight-game winning streak.
"He's minimized the bad goals on shots you normally expect your goalie to stop, and maybe he would let one of those in two months ago to let the team down," Berenson said. "Right now, he's making those saves that he should make.
"And he's making the big saves, too. We're leading 4-1 at Western in the second period (last weekend) and we had all the momentum, then bang, we turned the puck over and they had a breakaway, blue line in and he stopped it. A minute later, they stole the puck from one of our defensemen, passed it to a guy all alone and he stopped that, too."
Said Racine: "The guys are playing great, sacrificing their bodies, blocking shots and doing whatever they can to help me out, and that's helped my confidence a ton."
Racine, however, isn't the only player feeling confident.
Senior defenseman Lee Moffie said the team believes in Racine and Berenson.
"We've improved defensively, letting up under 20 shots a game," Moffie said. "The team's been desperate to block shots and do everything we can.
"Red's philosophy has always been, 'Work your way out of things, don't try to think your way out of things.' Steve and the rest of the goalies have been getting on the ice early, working with (goaltender coach) Josh Blackburn, doing extra stuff to build their games and it shows."
And if they can show it one more time, the Wolverines just might lift the Mason Cup in the CCHA's final hour Sunday.
It could well be one of Berenson's finest moments.