ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- David Wohlberg sat on the black cushioned seats inside the Xcel Energy Center with a pit in his stomach and his head in his hands, as much as he could. His sling, wrapped tightly around his body, held his left arm in place, making sure he didn't disturb his broken collarbone.
It had been five games since Wohlberg's season ended on the ice. In that first game of the CCHA Tournament against Bowling Green Wohlberg had netted a quick goal, but by the third period he was in the training room with his skates on the floor.
The injury was more misfortune than anything. He had simply skated across center ice and been taken down by a Bowling Green defenseman. The team knew immediately how bad it was. Defenseman Mac Bennett, who was on the ice at the time, remembered thinking of it as a football hit when he heard the two collide.
So through the rest of the CCHA and NCAA playoff runs, Wohlberg spent time in the dressing room with the team before the games, gave pointers after the games and attended every practice at Yost Ice Arena. But when the team took the ice, he took his spot in the stands beside teammate Lindsay Sparks, who had been scratched from the Wolverines' travel lineup. Wohlberg lived and breathed every pass, every shot, every call as a player and fan, a teammate and coach.
"Being a part of this team, you want to do everything you can," Wohlberg said. "For that injury to happen and to realize your season is done, you have to change your mindset to, 'How can I help the team off the ice opposed to on the ice.' And I think seeing what I could do off the ice kind of helped some of the guys on the ice."
Wohlberg and Sparks sat in the arena in St. Paul as the then-No. 2 Michigan hockey team took then-No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth to overtime. When the third period ended, Sparks looked at Wohlberg and told him about how he remembered that the Wolverines had been to overtime twice in National Championship games and both times they had won.
But against Minnesota-Duluth, that wasn't the case. Michigan lost 3-2.
"We were just shocked," Sparks said. "And we just looked at each other like, 'It's over. This is over.' It was so quick. [Minnesota-Duluth] celebrated, and we just looked at each other. It was a weird feeling when you lose and you know it's over. There's no next game, no other chance, it was just done with. We knew we had another season, but for the guys that were seniors, that was tough, because they were so close."
Twice before, though both in junior hockey, Wohlberg had seasons end with broken collarbones. But it wasn't like this. Those teams didn't make NCAA national championship runs. Those teams didn't upset the No. 1 team in the country in the semifinals. Those teams weren't as important to him as this Michigan team was.
So he knew he had to make the most of his final season with the Wolverines. Throughout the offseason he thought about how he would take what he had seen in the stands and use it to help his game. He considered those seven games off the ice to be an elongated film session, watching patterns and players, figuring out ways to improve his own game.
He rehabbed his body and got back on the ice while continuing to be a sounding board for teammates and was elected a captain this year.
"Dave has a really strong presence in the locker room," Bennett said. "He's a leader on this team. Just to have him on the ice, in the locker room, in the weight room. He's an example that everyone wants to follow."
Wohlberg's season started slowly, just three goals through the first 15 games, but it picked up from there. Wohlberg has scored 15 goals and has assists on 17 others for the Wolverines. And in the past four games the senior has scored four goals and added an assist.
As Michigan prepares for the final rounds of the CCHA tournament and, hopefully, the NCAA tournament, Wohlberg continues to help his team both on and off the ice.
"I still felt that I was part of the run last year, but now that it's my final year here, I want to go out with a bang, and I think this team is capable of it," Wohlberg said. "You can't hold stuff in when you know potentially you could only have a few games left, so just doing what I can to help the team. The people before me here who've won national championships, you hear stories. I would love for it to happen to this team."