BIG RAPIDS — It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Michigan has yet to put together a full 60 minutes of quality hockey this season.
But as it found out after Saturday night’s 3-3 shootout win over Ferris State, the Wolverines don’t always have to — though it would certainly help them hang onto leads, like the two-goal advantage they held over the Bulldogs, that have been hard to come by.
Friday night, Michigan played an opening frame that coach Red Berenson said was carried by the Wolverines.
“I thought we came out strong, and after playing that first period, I think we all felt pretty good in the locker room,” said junior defenseman Mac Bennett.
But after a solid first 20 minutes, the next two periods were filled with disaster.
“I liked our start again,” Berenson said Friday. “I look back on this stretch of games that we haven’t played as well in at the end, but we played well at the start. Then the second period begins and, for one reason or another, our game changes.”
After Ferris State finally scored the game’s first goal, there was an opening of the floodgates that has been a too-familiar sight to Michigan so far this season. In fact, the Bulldogs’ three-goal second period marked the sixth time this year that the Wolverines have allowed at least that many tallies in a single period.
Bennett readily admitted after the series-opening loss that the team’s mentality goes awry at times after falling behind early. Far too often this season, he’s seen Michigan come out sharp and competitive, only to look flat-footed and shell shocked as the games wear on.
“That’s something we need to be better at,” Bennett said. “Our mental toughness is a huge part of this game. Especially in college hockey, you can get a good bounce here or there — you can go down or go up. If we can be mentally tough, we’ll be in a good place.”
Saturday was different, though. Instead of packing it in after the quick Bulldog goal, Michigan seemed to play with more intensity. Early in the game, freshman forward Andrew Copp rallied the bench, delivering some much-needed energy into a lineup that had failed to produce offensive chances recently.
“I like the way our team put that behind them and slowly took over the game,” Berenson said. “Rather than let it bother us or upset us, we moved on.”
That’s when the Wolverines began to fight back with three goals of their own. But as evidenced by the Ferris State comeback that brough the game to overtime, Michigan isn’t yet able to play consistently for a full game.
Freshman goaltender Steve Racine gave the Wolverines a chance to win the game Saturday, and they did so despite their inability to control all three periods. By the end of the second, Ferris State was clearly closing in on an equalizer, and the Bulldogs missed several opportunities to win it in the third.
As long as Michigan continues to play more tentatively with leads, or self destruct when it trails early on, it’s going to be difficult put together a full 60 minutes. First, the Wolverines must eliminate the goals that come in bunches.