- Patrick Barron/Daily
By Alejandro Zúñiga, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 21, 2014
For six weeks, the Michigan hockey team has acted more like a practice squad than a varsity program.
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Since tying Ferris State on Dec. 11, the 14th-ranked Wolverines (2-2 Big Ten, 10-6-2 overall) have played just four games and lost all of them. Time off for finals, the holidays and last week’s bye have made it easier for players to heal, but it’s come with a hefty cost: Michigan is in the midst of its longest winless streak since 2011.
The Wolverines spent two weeks practicing and preparing for the Great Lakes Invitational, two more weeks for a conference series at Wisconsin on Jan. 10-11 and haven’t played since.
“It seems like a month and it is a month,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson.
The struggles this year could change how the program organizes future schedules. Berenson intentionally withholds his team from playing during the first weekend in January every year, because the Wolverines often send players to the World Junior Championships during that time.
But Michigan had that planned bye in early January and then another after the Wisconsin series, which Berenson hopes to avoid in the future.
FIVE FOR FIGHTING: Fighting is illegal in college hockey, but that didn’t stop the Wolverines from dropping the gloves in Tuesday afternoon’s practice.
Even during non-contact drills like the end-of-practice shootaround, players feigned punches to the heads of their teammates and jokingly drove each other into the boards and to the ground.
Why? As sophomore forward Andrew Copp explained, “It’s Michigan State week. I think that speaks for itself.”
When they met earlier this season in the consolation round of the Great Lakes Invitational, the Spartans earned a dominant 3-0 win. Copp didn’t participate in the tournament because he was representing the United States in the World Junior Championships in Sweden, so he’s experiencing the intensity of the in-state rivalry week for the first time this season.
“It’s going to be a little different when you’ve got ‘little brother’ coming to town,” Copp said.
HOLY HOBEY: Brendan Morrison. Kevin Porter. Andrew Copp?
In nearly a century of Michigan hockey, the program has earned 35 NCAA Tournament appearances, reached the Frozen Four 24 times and claimed nine national titles. But just two Wolverines, Morrison and Porter, have earned the Hobey Baker Award as the best collegiate player in the country.
This year, Copp hopes to add his name to that list. On Jan. 14, he was named a candidate for the prestigious award.
“It’s an honor, but only half the season is done,” Copp said.
The 68 candidates will be narrowed down to a group of 10 on March 20, and three finalists will be selected April 2. The winner will be announced April 11 at the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.
Until then, the public can voice its opinion by voting for its preferred candidate online. The fan poll accounts for 1 percent of the final decision. As of Tuesday afternoon, Copp had nearly 1,400 votes, ranking 12th.