Michigan moment No. 5: Michigan wins 1996 national hockey championship – Landof10.com

Editor’s note: In June 1917, the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives invited Michigan back into the league, increasing membership to 10 and eventually spawning the iconic “Big Ten” nickname. One hundred years later, Land of 10 will spend the summer looking at the history of America’s legendary conference and its teams.


ANN ARBOR, Mich. — National championships. All-Americans. Professional legends. Olympic champions.

It’s all part of the history of Michigan athletics, and Michigan beat writers Rachel Lenzi and Kevin Goheen are counting down the 100 most memorable moments. Here is moment No. 5. The countdown will continue each weekday.

When many think of the 1996 Michigan hockey team, they think of one person, one moment that summed up the run to the national championship.

Mike Legg.

In a 4-3 win against Minnesota in a regional final on March 24, 1996, Legg took possession of the puck behind the Minnesota goal, then placed his stick parallel to the ice and somehow cradled the puck in the curve of his stick blade.

Then, Legg pushed to the net and flipped his stick upside down, releasing the puck into the goal over the shoulders of Minnesota goaltender Steve DeBus to tie the game at 2-2.

As Legg and his teammates celebrated inside Munn Arena in East Lansing, Mich., the rest of the hockey world wondered, “How the hell did that just happen?”

There was something spectacular and unique about the move, later dubbed “The Michigan.” Legg had practiced it during the season, but as the playoffs approached, he remained hesitant about attempting the scoring move. Even after Michigan coach Red Berenson gave his blessing as he watched Legg execute the move following a practice at Yost Ice Arena. Even after Legg asked referees, “is this move legal?”

“I remember practicing it and thinking, and telling myself, ‘do not do this,’ ” Legg said. ” ‘It’s the playoffs, don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this.’ But you get into a familiar position and it just was kind of natural, to be like, this is the perfect time to do this. That goal, it was more of a reaction because I practiced it so much.”

Legg never made the scoring move again in a game, even as Michigan went on to win the 1996 national championship with a 4-3 overtime win against Colorado College.

Brendan Morrison scored the game-winning goal in the national title game, but to many, Legg’s goal defined the 1995-96 season. Yet Michigan’s 1996 hockey championship wasn’t a fluke, or a one-time event. In fact, Michigan won two national championships in three years, adding the program’s ninth championship trophy in 1998.

Winning a national title isn’t easy. Yet Peter Bourke, a defenseman at Michigan from 1993-97, said he believes his team had a shot to contend for the national championship in three of his four seasons in Ann Arbor.

“In a single-elimination tournament, it’s pretty tough to do,” said Bourke, who now works in commercial real estate in Chicago. “After we left [in 1997], they brought in 10 freshmen and that team won it, on the back of Marty Turco. And the way the puck bounces? You never know. It takes a lot of luck, a lot of hard work and everyone pulling together.”

The 1996 championship run

Winning a national title also takes some fortunate timing.

“Partially, it’s luck,” said Steven Halko, a defenseman who was Michigan’s captain in 1995-96. “Partially, it’s staying healthy. Partially, it’s peaking at the right time. It takes an entire program to learn how to win. For us to do it again? And who knew that would have been the only other time we’d won a national championship since [1996].

“We knew it was special when it happened. I can’t stress enough how fortunate we were to play for that coach, on those teams and at that time. All of us on the 1996 team, the 1995 team, even 1997, we’d all agree with that statement.”

College hockey was different in the 1990s. There was no social media, other than a phone call or an email, which meant that the most players saw and heard of other players was through highlight reels on the evening news, through film study or through write-ups in publications such as The Hockey News or Inside Hockey.

Michigan joined Vermont, Boston University and Colorado College in the 1996 Frozen Four in Cincinnati, and each team boasted future NHL stars, including Tim Thomas and Martin St. Louis at Vermont, and Chris Drury, Mike Grier and Jay Pandolfo at Boston University.

That didn’t faze the Wolverines, who beat Minnesota in the regional final and Boston University in the Frozen Four to reach the national title game.

“We knew some of those guys, but I don’t think we spent a lot of time focusing on them, outside of Chris Drury or Martin St. Louis,” Bourke said. “We had to look next to us in the locker room and see guys like Brendan Morrison, Jason Botterill, John Madden, to see that same type of guy. Looking back at that now, it’s easy to say, ‘Wow! Those were my teammates!’ ”

20 years later

The 1995-96 Michigan hockey team held its 20-year reunion in October at Yost Arena, where it was recognized during the Wolverines’ game against Michigan Tech. The first thing that surprised Halko about his former teammates was the fact that while winning a national hockey championship defined the group, it didn’t define each individual.

That, Halko said, was a testament to the type of players Berenson and assistants Billy Powers and Mel Pearson recruited to Michigan. The university hired Pearson in April to replace the retired Berenson.

“All the guys were in relatively good shape, healthy and most of us are husbands and fathers and have careers after hockey,” said Halko, who is a wealth-management adviser with Merrill Lynch in Cary, N.C. “I’m proud to see everyone doing well and making it through tough times in life.

“I wasn’t sure if I’d feel like a visitor coming back. I sent a note to my teammates after the reunion, and we felt like we belonged as soon as we got on campus, because of teammates and coaches, and we still felt like we belonged, 20 years later. We all have a connection, all the Michigan hockey players, that most don’t have. And that’s a special thing.”

Three of the Wolverines had another surprise.

During an intermission, Legg, Morrison and Turco teamed up for one more run on the ice — one that involved trick shots.

Legg’s precision was masterful.

“The Score-O thing was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen in sports,” Bourke said, laughing. “But watching it, it said a lot about our team. Everyone got along, everyone who was a teammate was a friend. It was so cliché, but when everyone got back together, everybody just picked up where they left off. And it was so fun to relive all those old memories.”

But while Legg’s flashy shot against Minnesota may have crystallized Michigan, Halko found another characteristic that defined Michigan’s 1996 national championship team: continuity.

“Brendan Morrison. Marty Turco. John Madden,” Halko said. “Every guy in 1996 stayed for four years on that team. It makes me think of football, and one of my favorite quotes from Bo Schembechler.

“ ‘Those who stay will be champions.’ ”

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