In a strange way, the Michigan hockey team has become accustomed to losing.
It may sound odd for a team that has made 22 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament. But over the past few seasons, the Wolverines have made an unusual habit of stumbling their way through the first halves of seasons.
Starting with the 2009-10 campaign, November has become a particularly cruel month to Michigan (3-5-1 CCHA, 5-7-1 overall). This month, the Wolverines are 2-6-1.
Michigan coach Red Berenson has always used 10-game intervals to gauge the program’s performance, but he seems to be at a loss right now for an explanation of the team’s underperformance. He says the difference between last season and this season’s fall slump is like night and day, mostly due to goals-against — the Wolverines are currently allowing 3.5 goals per game.
But Berenson doesn’t want to admit that a first-half slump has become an inevitable part of the season, especially since this season’s struggles are so different from the kind the Wolverines have faced before.
“We’re at the end of November now but (the problems) have been going on since game one,” Berenson said. “We didn’t have a good start and never put anything together. We’ve never had a Monday where we looked back and said ‘We had two good games.’ ”
The coach hasn’t been able to answer why Michigan suffers from so many lapses. Junior forward Derek DeBlois says it boils down to the Wolverines “packing it in” when games seem to be spiraling out of control. It also doesn’t help that Michigan is still searching for more than just a couple of players to carry the team.
Usually it’s pride for the storied Michigan program that drives the Wolverines, and Berenson expressed dismay that the team didn’t represent itself better on a national stage when it had the opportunity to play at Madison Square Garden in New York City last weekend.
“When (the players) put that jersey on, they know they’ve got a chance to win every night, but you’ve got to go out and do it,” Berenson said. “Winning is hard … and you’ve got to pay the price.”
The players are quick to point out that there are still four games left before the first half of the year is over and the season can still be salvaged but most important is regaining conference standing before a brutal travel schedule kicks in during January.
Historically, the second half of the season has been very good for Michigan, with the team pulling out a strong rally to propel them to near the top of the CCHA.
It certainly helps that the majority of the team already has experience with overcoming slumps, but they’re still careful not to ride on the expectation that a new year automatically implies a rejuvenated program.
“We can’t rely on a second half,” DeBois said. “It starts now, it starts today. This week’s going to be huge, but we like our chances.”
NOTES: On Tuesday, the hockey program announced that seven players have signed National Letters of Intent for the 2013-14 season.
Michigan will have four new forwards in Evan Allen, Bryson Cianfrone, J.T. Compher, Alex Kile and Tyler Motte, and two defensemen with Nolan De Jong and Michael Downing.
“We look forward to the unique assets that each of these players will bring to our program,” Berenson said in a press release. “All seven of these student-athletes are high-skill and high-character players, and will give us a well-rounded freshman class next season.”
Compher is the most highly touted of the group. Currently skating with the USNTDP – who will face the Wolverines in a January exhibition game — Compher is ranked No. 1 among all USHL players for the 2013 NHL draft.