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Michigan hockey hopes to halt big road woes in Big Rapids

Patrick Barron/Daily
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By Matt Slovin, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 29, 2012

The Michigan hockey team returns to CCHA play Friday when it begins a two-game road series against Ferris State (5-3 CCHA, 6-4-2 overall).

After playing home-and-home series with the Bulldogs the past few seasons, the Wolverines will play a full weekend in Big Rapids for the first time since 2006. And because Michigan has begun this season with an abysmal 0-3-1 record away from Yost Ice Arena, the venue is perhaps more foreboding than Ferris State’s status as reigning conference champions.

To neutralize the home-ice advantage, Michigan coach Red Berenson said the Wolverines (3-5-1, 5-7-1) need to get on the board first.

“It’s huge, especially at a place like Ferris State where it feels like the crowd is right on the ice with you,” Berenson said. “For us to play well there, we’ve got to keep the crowd out of it.”

Coming off yet another embarrassing loss, this time to Cornell at Madison Square Garden, Michigan also needs to return to the fundamentals. Missed defensive assignments led to too many Big Red goals in the 5-1 defeat last Saturday.

“It wasn’t that (Cornell) made great plays,” Berenson said. “These were broken plays. We’re not picking up sticks or doing simple things like that.”

The Bulldogs sit in a tie for second place in the league, and one reason is because they’ve retained their stellar goaltending. Last year, sophomore C.J. Motte split time between the pipes during his with then-senior Taylor Nelson, but now the job is Motte’s alone. He’s posted a 2.20 goals-against average and a save percentage of .928.

In order to begin a crucial four-game stretch of games leading up to the Great Lakes Invitational on the right foot, the Michigan offense needs to find its scoring touch. After scoring in bunches to start the season, the Wolverines have scored one goal apiece in three of their last four games.

“Right now, goals for are precious and goals against are killing us,” Berenson said.

But as he does every year, Berenson recently looked back at the team’s first 10 games to evaluate where it stands. What he found was that goals scored, power-play goals and shots against were all similar to their totals from a year ago. The main discrepancy came in goals against.

The Bulldogs won’t be the best offensive team the Michigan defense has faced all year, but they are still formidable. Ferris State ranks third in the CCHA, averaging 2.88 goals per game.

“I think it’s just our defensive-zone coverage that’s struggling right now,” said freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba. “It’s just something we need to keep working on in practice.”

The defensemen have been slow-footed so far, but the burden also lies with the backchecking forwards. If Ferris State gets on the board first, the Wolverines will have a hard time digging out of the hole at Ewigleben Arena.