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April 01, 1996 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 1996-04-01

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28 - The Michigan Daily - SPORTSMonday - Monday, April 1, 1996

NCAA CHAMPIONS
Maybe now hockey willbe bi

WALKER VANDYKE/Daily
Michigan left wing Jason Botterill sneaks behind Tiger goaltender Ryan Bach, trying to get a stick on a Bill Muckalt rebound.
Seniors struggle finally over
After years of losing out in the NCAAs, seniors get their title

By Alan Goldenbach
Daily Sports Writer
CINCINNATI-Four seniors, four
years, four overtimes.
One huge win.
The senior class of the Michigan
hockey team - Steven Halko, Kevin
Hilton, John Arnold and Mark Sakala
- has seen it all in its careers as
Wolverines.
1993: The mystique of Michigan in
overtimes begins with a 4-3 loss to
Maine.
1994: Longtime conference nem-
esis Lake Superior bounces the Wol-
verines in the quarterfinals of the
NCAA tournament, 5-4.
1995: Michigan hits rock bottom,
losing to Maine, 4-3, in three brutal
extra sessions.
1996: The seniors finally make it to
the championship game and end their
careers with a bang. National Cham-
pions.
So what's it like-to finally get over
the hump in the last game of your
career?
"I've never felt anything like this in
my life," Hilton said. "It's just unbe-
lievable."
"I'm still taking it all in," Halko
said after the game. "Seeing everyone
standing on the ice was just a great
feeling."
Halko, the team captain and mem-
ber of the all-tournament team, may
'be the most satisfied of the crew.
The team leader saw the little things
-that kept Michigan from taking the
final step each of the last three sea-
son.
"We had confidence to win the other

Halko

Hilton

Amold Sakala

three years," Halko said. "We just
didn't get the lucky bounces."
Impressive was the Wolverines abil-
ity not to let their past heartbreaks set
them back. But then again, this was
the bunch's first trip to the final game
of the season.
"It's the national championship
game," Halko said. "You don't need
any more motivation than that."
But there can not be anything more
difficult than knowing each season
will end in sudden-death even if it
does result in victory. It was a feeling
that even the elder statesmen of the
team aren't immune to.
"When we went to overtime, I
prayed, 'Please let the puck bounce

our way this time,"' Arnold said. "I
mean, I've never been more nervous
in my life."
Arnold, the prototypical role player,
didn't let his fourth-line status and
lack of playing time affect him. He
was just happy to finally achieve the
ultimate goal.
"I have a role on this team as a
grinder and a penalty killer," Arnold
said.
"Maybe I didn't get a lot of ice
time, but my main concern was to
keep everyone having a positive atti-
tude on the bench and together as a
group.
"I'll do anything to help this team
win."
Pointing to his soaked jersey he
said with a huge grin, "this jersey's
never coming off."
Then there's Hilton, the player who
surprised everyone and led the CCHA
in scoring for much of the season. He
took over as the team's top-line cen-
ter while Brendan Morrison sat out
with a variety of injuries.
Hilton noted that the difference in
this year's team was the level of con-
fidence that it played with.
"There was more confidence in the
air this year," Hilton said. "In the past
there were some doubts floating
around. But it was all positive feel-
ings this year.
"I couldn't tell you why it hap-
pened this year that way. It just did."
Mark Sakala may have the most
interesting story of the group.
A fifth-year senior, Sakala had seen
part-time duty in three previous
NCAA tourneys but didn't play at all
his freshman year. Sakala had the
opportunity to graduate and move on
with his life.
Instead, he was convinced by former
teammate, Ron Sacka, to stay and
take graduate classes.
"I told him (after last season), that
if he wanted a national champion-
ship, that he should come back," Sacka
said.
Perhaps Sacka, who's out of hockey
now, may want to consider a future as
a fortune teller. Sakala just might pay
him another visit.

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