John U. Bacon on Red Wings’ slide, UM’s Frozen Four fizzle, and hope for women’s hockey

The Red Wings have been in a race for an NHL wild-card playoff spot for weeks. The Penguins are also in that race and Thursday night in Pittsburgh, they beat the Wings 6-5 in overtime.

Also on Thursday, in men’s college hockey, the Boston College Eagles blew past Michigan 4-0 in their NCAA Frozen Four semifinal matchup in Minnesota. The loss ended the Wolverines’ season.

Michigan Public sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about all of that and more from the world of hockey.

DT: Let’s start with Michigan. This was the Wolverines’ third straight trip to the Frozen Four and their fourth in the last five. They’ve now failed to get to the title game in each of those appearances. What’s keeping them from making that last leap to a championship?

JUB: I would have to say maturity. This is still a young team in some ways. Thursday night they took a dumb penalty at a dumb time. They had a power play. They’ve got the best power play [offense] in the country. A power play is when the other team gets a penalty and now you’ve got five skaters versus their four skaters — a great chance to score.

And then on their power play, they took a dumb penalty. So then, of course, Boston College goes down and scores. So they’ve got all the pieces. Their goaltending is not quite the equal of their peers right now, but everything else they’re loaded for bear.

DT: And Boston College has one of the best offenses in the country. Tough to match that, regardless. In the other semifinal game, Denver beat Boston University in overtime. BC and Denver will play for the national title on Saturday night.

John, sticking with college hockey, a couple of weeks ago the Ohio State women’s team won the national championship. You hear much less about the women’s Frozen Four here in Michigan, because there are no Division I women’s hockey teams in the state. When I moved here from New England, I found that shocking.

In Boston, there is the famous in-season tournament known as the Beanpot. Harvard, Northeastern, BC and BU play in it every year. Well, the women have had their own Beanpot there since 1979. The NCAA has had a women’s Frozen Four for more than 20 years.

Now, U of M has recently announced it’s looking at adding a women’s hockey team. Why haven’t universities in the state added one yet?

JUB: Great question. The short answers are money, time, and effort, and hockey has to be about the most expensive sport out there. Having said that, Doug, there are [seven] universities in the state of Michigan that have Division I men’s hockey and zero women’s.

“There is a ton of women’s hockey talent in the state of Michigan that goes … to Ohio State and Minnesota and Wisconsin … where there are programs.”

John U. Bacon on news that U of M is exploring the possibility of adding a women’s hockey team. There are no Division I women’s hockey teams in the state of Michigan.

Minnesota, Wisconsin, they’ve got great women’s teams who win national titles. Ohio State does now, and Ohio State is long after Michigan in men’s hockey. So, there’s no question the state of Michigan has been behind the times.

It is not simple and it’s not easy. And it’s not going to be quick because you tend to have to either rebuild your facility, which is expensive, or you have to build a second facility to accommodate what you need to do for Title IX.

That said, so what? If you want to be leaders in best and you’re claiming that, well, this would be a great chance to do so. And for whatever the cost of women’s hockey, it’s peanuts compared to the great marketing you get by saying, “Look, we finally did this, and we’re the first one in the state of Michigan to do this.’

And there is a ton of women’s hockey talent in the state of Michigan that goes — guess where — to Ohio State and Minnesota and Wisconsin … where there are programs. So, Michigan would be a powerhouse almost immediately if they start one.

DT: Okay, let’s turn to the Red Wings, whose playoff hopes are not dead but are not exactly looking great. This week, Detroit lost two key games against teams who are also trying to earn a wild card spot — Washington and Pittsburgh. The Red Wings have three games left in the regular season. What do they need to focus on to close things out?

“You have to block every shot. You have to play it like the playoffs.”

John U. Bacon on the mindset the Red Wings’ need in their final few regular season games in order to win a playoff spot

JUB: Look, these are playoff games for them. Even though it’s not the playoff. They have to win all three, basically. They’re in a four-team hunt for one spot, so there’s no looking back. You have to block every shot. You have to play it like the playoffs. And the last couple games they have been, but it’s been a little late.

They lost seven in a row, as you and I have discussed, in March. So it’s the rabbit and the tortoise. Well, the rabbit was sleeping in March, and that’s when they lost it. They’re not dead yet, and they’re playing with some grit. And Lucas Raymond scored a nice hat trick Thursday night.

Having said all that, man, I can’t recall the last time Detroit was even in the hunt for a playoff spot. So this is at least interesting.

DT: Up next, the Red Wings will face the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday night.

Editor’s note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity.

John U. Bacon is the author of several national bestsellers.  He’s also featured in a new ESPN short documentary film about the most famous shot in University of Michigan hockey history and how the gravity-defying move has influenced NHL players for more than 20 years. The documentary is called “The Michigan” and it will premiere at 8:00am Sunday on ESPN.


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