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ON HOLD: The call that birthed the modern Michigan dynasty

By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 22, 2012

But for Kramer, the man who hit two posts, there was no time to dwell on the loss: a consolation game against Bowling Green loomed the next day. Since the Falcons finished just one spot ahead of Michigan, nearly everyone involved described the game as essentially a play-in game, though Bowling Green did go 3-1 against Michigan before meeting in the playoffs.

Michigan rolled to a 5-4 victory. After the game was over, the Falcons players, and their legendary coach, Jerry York, were gracious.

“Players, we can’t really fool each other,” Harlock said. “You know who is worthy and who’s a good player and who’s a good team. When we went through, and we shook hands with all the Bowling Green players after that game, after we beat them in that consolation game, they were all saying good luck in the NCAA Tournament. You know, ‘Hey, we’re going on Spring Break. We haven’t been on Spring Break ever, so go enjoy yourselves.’ ”

And so in South Quad, Harlock, the last player on the team to get the news, was expecting a bid. Neaton and Tamer, the freshmen in West Quad, expected a bid. The sophomores — Kramer and Felsner and David Roberts — expected a bid. The seniors — Mike Moes and Al Sharples and Rob Brown — expected a bid. And their leader, Al Roberts, expected one too…

Berenson hung up the phone.

The committee had gone with Bowling Green.

Michigan did not make it.

***

The news traveled through the phone wires like a wildfire.

When the blaze reached the seniors, Moes felt it like a punch to the gut. Sharples said his heart broke. Al Roberts was shocked, more than anything. At the Michigamua meeting high up in the tower of the Michigan Union, Al Roberts and Sharples and Moes demanded justice. They demanded a reason. They demanded — anything. Any chance to put on the sweater one more time.

Rob Brown locked himself in his room and didn’t talk to anybody.

And so the seniors searched for some explanation that could ease the pain. The popular theory is that Bowling Green’s Athletic Director, who served on the four-man selection committee, swayed the other three members.

“(He) clearly homered them,” said John U. Bacon, a Michigan hockey historian and author of "Blue Ice," a book used for background in this story. “It was an inside job, it was grossly unfair, and Michigan paid the price.”

Of course, Schneider, the Sports Information Director, points out that Michigan simply didn’t win enough games against Michigan State, Lake Superior State and Bowling Green to get themselves off the bubble. But then there’s this curiosity: Schneider, curious as to whether Michigan would get the bid, secretly listened in on the committee’s conference call. The board opened the lines to questions from the media.

The second question, according to Schneider, from a reporter for the Los Angeles Times: “Why Bowling Green over Michigan?”

Rick Comley, the coach of Northern Michigan and a member of the committee, answered. “It was Michigan’s non-conference situation,” he said.

“And I’m sitting there not able to talk, and I’m thinking — see, I don’t remember if we were the only team in the country, at least in the league, to not lose a nonconference game,” Schneider said. “We had swept Boston University, and they were a seeded team.”

“I feel devastated,” Berenson told The Michigan Daily. “I just think we were shafted.”

Harlock felt miserable too — not for himself, but for those who didn’t have a next year.

“(They) don’t get the credit they deserve for turning around the program,” he said. “They were the ones who probably did a lot more of the behind-the-scenes dirty work.”

In Kramer’s house, someone said, “We’re going to have a great team next year. Just remember what this feels like.”

“I am convinced, out of the pain of that experience, the seeds for their 20 years of success were sown,” Bacon said. “They made a commitment that from now on, we were never going to leave it up to some committee of guys we’ve never met.”

And they didn’t. The following year, they won 10 more games than in 1990 and cruised into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1977.

In the first series, the team so familiar with agonizing exits lost to Cornell in overtime in the opening game.


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