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Five Things We Learned: Waterloo

Paul Sherman/Daily
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By Alejandro Zúñiga, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 7, 2013

1. Adjustments need to be made before Boston College.

The week before the No. 11 Michigan hockey team played Waterloo (Ont.), Michigan coach Red Berenson admitted that he was already looking ahead to the season-opening clash against No. 4 Boston College. After the Wolverines fell to the Warriors, 2-1, the excitement turned into trepidation.

“Well, it's a little scary,” Berenson said. “Boston College will certainly be a whole new challenge.”

Berenson stressed that the home exhibition helped younger players grow accustomed to playing a full-speed game against experienced competition, but the atmosphere at Yost Ice Arena on Thursday might not compare. The building will likely be packed and roaring when Michigan welcomes an Eagle squad that dispatched St. Francis 8-2 in an exhibition.

Both goals that Michigan surrendered Sunday came on team lapses. Senior defenseman Mac Bennett admitted to losing his man on the first, and no one cleared the rebound after sophomore goalkeeper Steve Racine made an impressive save. A dynamic 4-on-2 rush led to the second tally. There’s only so much coaching that can be done in a week, and the Wolverines will have to minimize mistakes that are common this early in the season to upset Boston College.

2. Freshmen will be key all year.

Much of Michigan’s success this season will be dependent on its freshman class, and it showed signs of promise on Sunday.

Defenseman Nolan de Jong and forward J.T. Compher led the Wolverines with five shots apiece, and goaltender Zach Nagelvoort looked solid in goal. Defensemen Kevin Lohan and Michael Downing both saw time on the penalty kill and helped hold Waterloo to zero shots despite the Warriors’ six minutes with a man advantage.

Berenson toyed with the lines to pair freshmen with upperclassmen and will continue to experiment early in the season. But he was impressed with the new talent, nonetheless.

“They got the feeling they can play at this level, and they just need to get ready and get a little more experience,” Berenson said. “Overall, I thought they were a positive.”

3. It was just an exhibition.

Because of customary NCAA restrictions, Berenson could spend little time on the ice with his team during practices leading up to the exhibition. The Wolverines also spent Sunday afternoon experimenting with line combinations and were shorthanded as junior forward Alex Guptill sat out due to an off-ice issue.

Michigan may go through some growing pains against Boston College, but it’s still early in the season. And the Wolverines showcased their speed and offensive potential in a game that easily could have gone either way.

“We're going to come into the Boston College game with a lot of confidence,” Copp said.

4. Michigan’s goaltending is stable.

Last season, the Wolverines struggled mightily between the pipes. Three different players started in net, and it took most of the year for sophomore Steve Racine to emerge from a mediocre pack.

Now a sophomore, Racine holds the No. 1 spot, where he was reliable in the loss to Waterloo. Racine surrendered a pair of goals, both of which came after he made a great pad save on a short-range shot and was unable to corral the rebound.

After the game, Berenson said Racine could benefit from more protection in the future.

Behind him, freshman goalkeeper Zach Nagelvoort played the last half of the game and held the Warriors scoreless, recording nine saves, while senior Adam Janecyk didn’t see any time on ice. It’s Racine’s job to lose.

5. Goals will come.

Michigan’s loss to Waterloo feels like a disappointment, but sophomore forward Andrew Copp had reasons to remain optimistic.

Yes, the Wolverines’ lone goal was a gift, a stickhandling error by Warrior goaltender Justin Leclerc that Copp managed to slide into the net. Yes, the power play finished a disappointing 0-for-5. But Michigan created plenty of scoring chances that will eventually go in.

“If we bury our chances, we’ll be in good shape,” Copp said. “A little bit was luck today, but we just need to bear down and be stronger in front of the net.”

The Wolverines finished with 35 shots to Waterloo’s 22 and dominated the first period despite surrendering a goal. They also played without Guptill, last season’s leading scorer.

Certainly, failing to hit twine regularly could become an issue, but Berenson isn’t worried quite yet.

“We only had a handful of good chances, and their goalie made the saves,” he said. “Outside of that, it was a close game. When you play from behind, sometimes it’s harder to score, and we just couldn't get that goal we needed.”