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For first time ever, hockey falls to U.S. Under-18s in exhibition

By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 4, 2013

The horn had blared and the fight song played, but once again the Michigan hockey team was disappointed.

And in a season that hasn’t gone as expected, so were the fans.

Walking down the stairs and out of Yost Ice Arena, one could here the cries of “awful game” or the complaint of “yet again.” They’re all familiar to fans, players and coaches alike who were all present to witness history of the bad kind.

Having won all previous 12 games against the United States National Team Development Program heading into Friday’s contest, the Wolverines fell, 5-3.

“It’s disappointing,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I thought their team came out and played with a lot more enthusiasm. They out-skated us, they out-hustled us and obviously outscored us.”

Michigan was outshot 37-22 in the exhibition, an indicator of its inability to generate strong offensive opportunities in the opposing zone. Ironically, it was the depleted defense that carried the Wolverines’ goal scoring.

But the defense still struggled to make plays and clear the puck on Friday. Missing freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba — who is playing for the United States in the World Junior Championships — junior Kevin Clare to injury, and with junior defenseman Jon Merrill limited to power plays, Michigan looked out of place and confused much of the night.

“We can make all the excuses that we want, but we had six defensemen dressed,” Berenson said. “The other guys that played dropped the ball tonight, simple as that.”

The Wolverines jumped on the board first behind the strong play of senior defenseman Lee Moffie. Playing shorthanded early in the first period, Moffie broke away down the center of the ice and put the puck in the upper-right corner to grab an early lead.

Michigan’s lead was short-lived, though, as the USNTDP answered back with a goal 90 seconds later when forward Sean Malone slipped the puck by freshman goaltender Jared Rutledge.

Rutledge, playing in his first match since a 5-0 loss to Ferris State on Nov. 30, finished the night with 32 saves.

Moffie continued to carry the scoring for Michigan as he fired a shot from the blue line past the goalie. The pair of goals were the alternate captain’s third and fourth of the year, in what has otherwise been an offensive struggle this season.

USNTDP forward Tyler Motte knotted the game at two after he found the back of the net with 4:11 remaining in the period. Motte is one of three USNTDP players committed to Michigan next year, joining Evan Allen and J.T. Compher.

The Wolverines’ struggling power-play unit received little help with the return of Merrill, who looked rusty after he sustaining an injury in October. Merrill played close to two minutes in limited action, easing his way back in to competition.

The second period ended without a goal from either team, despite multiple opportunities with an extra man for both teams. As a result, the scoreless second period was Michigan’s fourth in four games.

“Our team is trying to find their way,” Berenson said. “It’s not like we’re a first-place team having a bad night. We’re a seventh-place team having a bad night.”

Less than a minute into the third period the USNTDP capitalized on a man advantage after a tripping penalty on sophomore forward Alex Guptill carried over from the second period. Motte, impressing his future coach, took a one-timer in front of the goal to grab the lead.

Looking disorganized and stunned after giving up the goal, the Wolverines let in another score, as the USNTDP’s John Hayden fired a shot that found its way past Rutledge.

But Michigan (4-7-2 CCHA, 6-10-2 overall) bounced back quickly, as freshman forward Boo Nieves scored a goal to bring the score to 4-3. His goal didn’t do enough to rally the Wolverines, as they ultimately let in the fifth and final goal with five minutes to go.

“I was hoping we would take some steps,” Berenson said. “It’s another game, it’s a chance for competition. There’s not a guy in our locker room that has played his best hockey this year, and we’re trying to reach that, we’re trying to get better.

“I just thought we took another step backwards tonight.”