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Michigan’s list of chores highlighted by struggling forecheck

Patrick Barron/Daily
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By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 12, 2013

The Michigan hockey team has a list of chores to finish this week.

It’s a simple list, according to Michigan coach Red Berenson, consisting of five items highlighted by defensive-zone coverage, after the Wolverines were swept by No. 12 Notre Dame. But among the important issues is Michigan’s struggling forecheck.

It’s nearly impossible to quantify how efficient a forecheck is during a game, as turnovers aren’t necessarily an indicator of the forecheck alone. Goals allowed don’t solely fall on the forward’s forecheck, either.

So how can you measure the forecheck? According to Berenson, it’s as simple as faceoffs.

“One indicator of the game is, look at the faceoffs,” Berenson said. “If you see that we’ve got twice as many faceoffs that we took in our zone than their zone, then there’s a pretty good indication that’s where the game was played.”

And if you base the forecheck off of faceoffs, then Michigan didn’t perform well.

The Wolverines won fewer faceoffs than the Fighting Irish in both games of last weekend, and of those, even fewer came in the opposing zone. On Friday, the Wolverines won just 29 faceoffs compared to Notre Dame’s 35, while posting improved numbers on Saturday, winning 35 faceoffs compared to their opponent’s 36.

However, the forecheck isn’t always applicable every time the puck is in the other zone, like during a line shift. But an efficient and consistent forecheck can help keep pressure off of an ailing defense and inexperienced goaltenders.

While faceoffs can be an indicator, the matter can be primarily subjective. Berenson wasn’t pleased with the performance over the weekend and in recent weekends.

“There’s a few times where we had a decent forecheck, but not a compelling forecheck,” Berenson said. “A good forecheck keeps them in their own zone and creates turnovers, and I didn’t think we did that.”

The last time Michigan’s forecheck was noticeable and compelling in Berenson’s eyes was Jan. 18-19 in its series against Lake Superior State. In that series, the Wolverines jumped out to early leads on both nights, overwhelming the defense and forcing the Lakers to play at a faster pace.

But against Notre Dame, the Wolverines looked more relaxed, waiting in their own zone for the potent offense to attack.

“(Our) forecheck kind of fell apart this weekend (against Notre Dame),” said senior forward A.J. Treais. “We’ve been trying out new systems … but we tried a new forecheck against Lake (Superior) State, and ever since then it’s been hit or miss.”

So, who is left to take charge and lead the forecheck to get a head start on the chores?

Certainly, the older, more experienced forwards can take charge and use their physicality to help out their defense.

But the forecheck is one of many interrelated parts that depend on making simple plays Berenson says, like timing passes.

“A little bit of (making plays) is experience,” Berenson said. “Some of it is just hoping, you’re hoping and you’re taking too many chances. Then, the other part is you’re playing from behind. When you start playing from behind you take chances.”

Now, the bye week allows the Wolverines to focus on the chore of forechecking stronger. It will help the forecheck when Michigan takes on Ohio State — the 45th-ranked team nationally in goals scored — next weekend.

Unless the forecheck improves, the Wolverines will have an even longer list of chores in their remaining weeks.