- Marlene Lacasse/Daily
By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 13, 2012
Jon Merrill was furious with himself. The sophomore defenseman hit his stick against the ice in frustration after his late-game turnover against Bowling Green cost the Michigan hockey team the game.
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Three weeks ago, the Wolverines were still battling for first place in the CCHA, and the loss to last-place Bowling Green knocked them out of the race. Merrill was less than pleased.
Well, cheer up, Mr. Merrill. It turns out that loss was a good thing.
“It was big for us to really lose to them,” said senior forward David Wohlberg. “I think in (that) game when we lost to them, that really opened our eyes to how good of a team they were.
“Now we know what we have to do to go and win against them this time.”
Michigan will play Bowling Green — this year’s Cinderella team in the conference playoffs — on Friday in the CCHA semifinals. After defeating Northern Michigan in the first round, the Falcons shocked top-seeded Ferris State in the quarterfinals.
With the rest of the CCHA apparently sleeping on the Falcons, some Michigan players have taken to something seemingly absurd: they’re singing the praises of their loss.
“Even though that was a big loss for us, it prepared us for every series,” said freshman forward Alex Guptill. “I don’t think we’d do as well in the Notre Dame series if we don’t lose that game against Bowling Green.”
Bowling Green overcame a three-goal deficit on Sunday against the Bulldogs to win the deciding game in overtime. The win was its fourth in the playoffs — just one less than its regular-season win total.
BLOCK TALK: A standard hockey puck, shot at 90 mph, exerts a force of 6557 newtons.
Given that you can understand the difficulty in getting hockey players to block shots. The problem is, Michigan coach Red Berenson knows that championship teams block shots. So, recently Berenson and the rest of the coaching staff have begun a shot-blocking initiative.
First, it was the plastic pucks.
Freshman forward Phil Di Giuseppe said the plastic pucks appeared a month ago during practice at Yost Ice Arena. They were meant to ease the team in to getting in front of pucks without the risk of injury.
The timing isn’t a coincidence. About a month ago, Berenson spent part of his Valentine’s Day watching the Rangers play the Bruins and was inspired.
“One night, I was watching Carl (Hagelin) play with the Rangers,” Berenson said. “(Rangers coach) John Tortorella, he made it very clear, he said ‘If you don’t block ‘blank’ shots, you don’t ‘blank’ play. Period.’ And that was a message for the whole team. And that’s how I feel. I didn’t like blocking shots, but you can learn how to do it.”
According to Berenson, there are three parts to blocking a shot: skill, timing and will.
Some players have the skill. Berenson lists senior forward Luke Glendening, senior defenseman Greg Pateryn, sophomore forward Derek DeBlois and junior forward Kevin Lynch among the team’s best blockers.
Next, the timing: The plastic pucks in practice have evolved to regular pucks, and Michigan now regularly runs a blocking drill during practices. Two players move the puck at the blue line, and two other skaters have to block the puck before it’s put on net.
Finally, the will. A few weeks ago, the team watched what fifth-year senior goalie Shawn Hunwick called a “little highlight tape of missed blocks that led to goals.”
And Berenson has continued to drive the message home. In his post-game speech to his players after the Notre Dame series, Berenson praised his shot blockers, later noting that Pateryn took a particularly painful shot off the arm.
And just in case that wasn’t enough, he also had a doozy of a story up his sleeve.
“I told them the story of Al Arbour,” said Berenson, referring to his former teammate on the St. Louis Blues. “This was the days of no helmets, and he wore glasses during the games. And Bobby Hull would come down the wing — and Bobby Hull had the best shot in the league — and he would rear back and he would rip it. And Al Arbour would go down with the glasses on, and he would block that shot.
“Between periods, they would take his shin pad off and they would stitch up his shins … And so he’d go back out, and Hull would come down again, and Arbour would go down. And we would all be on the bench just flinching for him.