BIG RAPIDS — The Michigan hockey team has been repeating the same mantra as frequently as they’ve been repeating their shortcomings: a new weekend means a new chance to break the losing streak.
But Friday night’s game against Ferris State was the same old played-out scene, as the Bulldogs easily shut out the Wolverines, 5-0, at Ewigleben Ice Arena.
“Our mental toughness is a huge part of this game,” said junior defenseman Mac Bennett. “It can go up and down. We’ve just got to stick to the process. If we can do that, we’ll be in a good place.
“We haven’t yet put together a full 60 minutes. The good news is the talent is there, we just need to put it to work.”
It wasn’t easy to tell, though, from the first period that the Wolverines would struggle so much throughout the game.
“I can tell you I was encourage by our preparation, our focus (and) our determination in the first part,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “Then things started to slip again. I think our team needs to stay determined, stay focused and we’ll get out of this.”
Though the Wolverines had few quality looks at net, they easily kept the puck out of their own zone in the first period, much to the benefit of freshman goaltender Jared Rutledge. He earned the starting nod for the first time in three weeks, and was never really tested throughout the frame — a seemingly welcome way to ease him back into the crease.
But then came the slew of Michigan penalties. Early in the second period, freshman forward Justin Selman had Michigan’s best chance of the night with a breakaway but couldn’t get a quality shot, as the puck went straight into Bulldog netminder C.J. Motte’s pads. Ferris State killed the penalty before the Wolverines had another opportunity to capitalize. Michigan had barely been playing at full strength before it found itself shorthanded again, when sophomore forward Phil Di Giuseppe was called for tripping.
Ferris State’s third power play was the charm — Rutledge was screened, and didn’t have a chance to see a Bulldog wrister from the point sneak past him, putting Ferris State up 1-0.
“Penalties have been a nemesis for us in recent games,” Berenson said. “We played well at the start, and then the second period kicks in and for one reason or another, our game changes.”
The Wolverines’ penalty kill continued to be their bane, as the Bulldogs scored a second power-play goal nine minutes later, when Eric Alexander knocked in the puck the top of edge of the crease to put them up by two.
Rutledge, who had previously seemed composed in the crease, looked rattled as Ferris State swarmed Michigan’s zone when the second period ran down, and it was just a question of when, not if the Bulldogs would strike again. And sure enough, they did two minutes later.
And again, five minutes into the final frame off a rebound. And again, shorthanded, with two minutes left in the game.
The stat sheet will credit the goals to Matt Robertson, Dakota Klecha and Garrett Thompson, respectively, but the Wolverines hope to forget the entirety of the final 40 minutes.
Aside from the faulty penalty kill, the problems were all over the board. And it was hard for Berenson not to be disappointed after Michigan seemingly won the first period.
The forwards struggled to complete passes and maintain possession and the defensemen couldn’t dump the puck out of their zone. Aside from Selman’s look earlier in the game, the Wolverines did not even come close to finding twine, even though they doubled their shots on goal from the second period into the third.
“The puck’s not going in for us right now, but we can’t worry about that as much as we can about keeping the puck out of the net,” Berenson said.