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Hockey returns to Yost to face two more ranked teams

Paul Sherman/Daily
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By Alejandro Zúñiga, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 23, 2013

The Michigan hockey team is undefeated, but coach Red Berenson isn’t exactly pleased.

The fourth-ranked Wolverines (3-0-1 overall) have been lucky to win, he says, and they’ve spent the year finding ways to not lose. Relying on good fortune alone just won’t last.

Despite opening the season with three of four games against ranked teams, Michigan’s schedule doesn’t get any easier. It welcomes No. 13 Boston University and No. 18 Massachusetts-Lowell to Yost Ice Arena this weekend.

Berenson watched film of Boston University’s game against Wisconsin last week. The second-ranked Badgers played well, taking a 1-1 tie into the first intermission. But when the final horn blew, the scoreboard at Agganis Arena flashed a 7-3 Terrier victory.

“BU is going to be really good,” Berenson said. “This’ll be the best team I think we’ve played.”

Given the level of competition Michigan has already faced, that’s a high compliment from the veteran coach. The Wolverines already beat Boston College, a perennial NCAA championship contender, 3-1, then they traveled to Rochester Institute of Technology, where they toppled the Tigers in front of more than 10,000 fans. And last weekend, Michigan earned a hard-fought win and a tie at then-No. 13 New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, Boston University (3-1-0) has played its first four games at home, and its only blemish came at the hands of No. 12 Rensselaer.

Despite the Wolverines’ near-perfect record, Berenson has noticed plenty of flaws in the early season. At RIT, the lopsided scoreline masked a disastrous second period in which Michigan allowed a four-goal lead to completely evaporate. And in the first game against New Hampshire, the Wolverines were whistled 11 times for penalties and barely hung on for a tie despite being horribly out-shot.

Those are issues Berenson has been trying to correct all week. Boston University went 3-for-7 on the power play to dominate Wisconsin, and Michigan can’t afford to take a period off or spend too much time down a man.

“The times we’ve ran into a little bit of trouble is when we’ve been in the box a lot,” said senior defenseman Mac Bennett. “We’ve got the stay out of the box, obviously.”

Saturday’s game against Massachusetts-Lowell (1-3-0) won’t be any less of a challenge. Semifinalists in last year’s Frozen Four, the River Hawks were the top-ranked team in the preseason polls. They lost their first game of the season in stunning fashion to Sacred Heart — a team that won just twice last year — and since then, Massachusetts-Lowell has won only once, 5-2 over Massachusetts-Amherst.

But the River Hawks still have the makings of an elite team. Netminder Connor Hellebuyck posted a 1.38 goals-against average last season, and defenseman Christian Folin returned to the team after a stellar freshman year.

“We’ve gotta get our feet moving on Friday, and then we’ll worry about Saturday,” Berenson said. “These are both top-10 teams.”

That challenge excites Berenson, and he says it’ll help the Wolverines when the grueling Big Ten season begins in late November.

“If we were fooling ourselves and playing weak teams week after week, whether we’re winning or losing, we’re going to have some false sense of confidence or security,” Berenson said. “There’s no place to hide right now. We’re playing good teams, and you can either play with them or you can’t.”

The Wolverines will be without their top netminder, sophomore Steve Racine, who pulled his groin making a save last weekend. But freshman Zach Nagelvoort has filled in nicely, allowing just two goals on 39 shots for a .949 save percentage. And junior forward Alex Guptill will be playing for the first time on home ice after he was suspended earlier in the year for off-ice issues. But that won’t matter when the puck drops.

“If we execute the way we want to execute, there’s not a team in the country that we can’t beat,” Bennett said. “That being said, every team in the country can beat us.”