Leading up to last weekend’s series against Michigan State, Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson cautioned that, despite the Spartans’ last-place standing, they still do several things well.
Foremost, he referenced Michigan State’s goaltender — freshman Jake Hildebrand. The Wolverines weren’t to be denied, though, sending eight total goals past Hildebrand on the weekend.
Berenson also mentioned the Spartan power play, led by sophomore forward Matt Berry. Again, Michigan controlled one of the weekend’s keys to victory, and the penalty-kill unit was successful on all nine of its tries. In fact, on the Spartans’ nine combined power-play chances, they mustered just eight shots.
Part of the unit’s improvement of late stems from younger players, like sophomore forward Andrew Sinelli, becoming more acclimated to the Wolverines’ system. The return of junior defenseman Jon Merrill to the Michigan lineup after being sidelined with an injury for the first half of the season has also been a crucial factor.
Assistant coach Brian Wiseman believes that limiting the number of power-play opportunities for opponents is behind the recent hot streak for the penalty killers. But even as recently as the Michigan State series, senior defenseman Lee Moffie found himself in the penalty box three times in a game. Freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba is by far the team’s most-penalized player with 64 minutes logged in the box. The next most penalized players, Moffie and senior forward Kevin Lynch, have 30 penalty minutes.
For the coaching staff, there’s a delicate balance between correcting penalties and ignoring them. Make a comment to a physical player and he quickly becomes tentative, avoiding a big hit that can shift momentum. Say nothing, though, and he could take another costly penalty.
“Unless somebody is taking penalties after the whistle or discipline-type penalties, selfish penalties that we need to get out of their game in general, we really don’t talk a whole lot about that,” said assistant coach Billy Powers. “(If) they start thinking about it too much, it’s not a productive thing.”
ONE DEFENSEMAN BACK…: After sustaining a lower-body injury against Bowling Green on Jan. 8, junior defenseman Mac Bennett will return to game action Friday night against Notre Dame.
According to Powers, Bennett will play about 23 to 25 minutes and is expected to make an instant impact after rejoining team practice Monday.
“There’s no question he’s going to give us a huge boost,” Powers said. “He’s a vocal guy, which will help our locker room — another good voice in there.
“And then, of course, what he does on the ice. He’s been as good an all-around defenseman as there’s been in our league, not just our team.”
ANOTHER ONE DONE: Berenson announced this week that junior defenseman Kevin Clare is likely done for the season with a “lingering upper-body injury.”
Clare is able to skate and practice, but he cannot take contact at game speed.
“What I’m telling (Clare) is that I don’t know if he will play again this year,” Berenson said. “Unless his injury really changes, but it hasn’t changed enough.”
The New Rochelle, N.Y. native played Jan. 25 to 26 at Western Michigan, but it became apparent that he wasn’t himself.
“If we’re healthy, he probably won’t have to play (the rest of the season),” Berenson said.
Clare has logged two points, both assists, in 19 games for the Wolverines this year.